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I begin by setting forth a summary of my position on the Sabbath
in the form of 16 thesis statements. This enables the reader to
get an overview of my position, with Scripture texts cited in
order to provide a rough sketch of how I approach the exegetical
data. This is then followed by a general exposition of the view
(subdivided into theological and practical considerations) and
responses to two objections. Finally, I compare my view with three
other positions on the Sabbath - the Puritan view as taught in
the Westminster Confession, the Continental view of the Heidelberg
Catechism, and the biblical theological view of Professor Meredith
Sixteen Theses on the Sabbath
(1) The Sabbath is a creation ordinance patterned after God's creation rest (Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 20:8-11; Mark 2:27; Heb. 4:4).
(2) The Sabbath does not belong to the category of ceremonial laws that have been abolished with the first coming of Christ, but remains in effect as a weekly sign for the new covenant community prior to the consummation.
(3) Our Lord Jesus did not abrogate the Sabbath, but cleansed it from the traditions of the Pharisees, and brought the Sabbath to its ultimate New Covenant expression (Mark 2:21-3:6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-18).
(4) The Lord's Day, which the church from the beginning has observed in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, is the Christian Sabbath (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; see the Appendix for early post-apostolic witnesses).
(5) The apostle Paul did not abrogate the Sabbath but warned against a Judaizing manner of keeping it (e.g., seventh-day observance - Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 4:9-10). His discussion of the weaker brother in Rom. 14:5-6 has to do with Jewish fast days, not the fourth commandment.
(6) The Sabbath is an eschatological sign pointing to the eternal Sabbath rest which the people of God will enter at the consummation (Ps. 95:11; Heb. 4:8-11).
(7) The New Testament believer's Spiritual rest in Christ (Matt. 11:28-30), enjoyed seven days a week, is an eschatologically realized dimension of the eternal Sabbath, a pledge of our inheritance (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:14).
(8) However, it is not legitimate to infer from the preceding that weekly Sabbath observance has been abrogated by the first coming of Christ. The Sabbath sign remains in effect for the church until the parousia, signifying that we live as pilgrims (Heb. 11:11-16; 1 Pet. 2:11) in this semi-eschatological age while we wait for the consummation, our eternal rest with Christ in glory (John 14:1-4; 17:24; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 21:3).
(9) Due to its character as a promissory sign of eschatological consummation, the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant, sanctifying the covenant community as holy unto the LORD and putting a visible difference between those that belong to the covenant community and those that belong to the world (Exod. 31:13-17; Ezek. 20:12; cp. Gen. 17:11).
(10) Promise establishes obligation (Heb. 4:1). Thus, the Sabbath sign is to be observed only by the holy covenant community, for to it alone does the promise of eschatological consummation apply (Heb. 4:9-10; Luke 13:16).
(11) Conversely, since unbelievers have no promise of eschatological consummation, they have no obligation to observe the sign thereof.
(12) It is not biblically permissible for the covenant community to attempt to enforce Sabbath observance on those outside of the covenant community (e.g., blue laws), nor should believers refrain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to profane the Sabbath.
(13) Rather than dictating a detailed list of things forbidden on the Sabbath it is best if ministers and elders enunciate the principles involved and allow each individual or family to prayerfully and conscientiously determine how they will sanctify the Sabbath.
(14) Church members should be taught to ask: "Does this activity hinder or promote the purpose of the day? I.e., does it hinder or promote my participation in the corporate worship of God's people? Does it hinder or promote a spiritually restful frame of mind in which I am reminded that I am a pilgrim on the way to the eschatological Sabbath rest?"
(15) Each individual will answer these questions differently, based on the principle that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
(16) Due to legitimate differences of opinion regarding the precise manner in which the Sabbath is to be sanctified, wisdom and charity suggest that church discipline should be limited to those who forsake the assembly (Heb. 10:25).
Exposition, Part 1: Theological Considerations
The creation Sabbath was given to Adam as part of the covenant
of works, as a sign that he would enter God's eschatological Sabbath
rest once his labors were complete. God had set the pattern by
his own example of performing the work of creation in six days
and resting on the seventh. Man was made on the sixth and last
day of God's creation work in God's image. Since man is made in
God's image, he must imitate the divine work-rest pattern. We
do not know how many weeks or years it would have taken for man
to finish the work assigned to him in the covenant of works, but
after observing many earthly Sabbaths, he would have eventually
finished his work and entered into the eternal Sabbath of God
himself. Meredith G. Kline puts it this way:
The imitation-of-God principle was to find embodiment in the over-all pattern of the history of man's kingdom labor in that this history was to correspond to the course of God's creational workings as a movement from work begun to work consummated. Mankind's cultural endeavors were to move forward to and issue in a sabbatical rest. In fact, man was to come by way of these works at last into God's own royal rest (Heb. 4:1ff). 
Adam disobeyed God, his dominion work was not completed, and the
hope of entering the eschatological Sabbath was seemingly taken
away. But God renewed the Sabbath sign with Israel. God made Israel
after his own image, to be holy even as God is holy, and offered
once again to man the hope of entering into his Sabbath rest.
This offer of rest was not the ultimate eschatological rest in
heaven, but an earthly rest in the land, ordained by God to be
a type and shadow of the ultimate rest. Notice the synonymous
parallelism in the following texts: "
place [menuchah] and
the inheritance which the LORD your God is giving you"
(Deut. 12:9); "The LORD your God gives you rest [nuach]
and will give you this land" (Josh. 1:13). The land
(particularly Mt. Zion) is described not only as Israel's Sabbath
rest, but as God's: "Therefore I swore in My anger, truly
they shall not enter into My rest [menuchah]"
(Psalm 95:11). Yahweh said of Mount Zion: "This is My
resting place [menuchah]
forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it" (Psalm
132:14; cp. v. 8).
Thus, in keeping with the hope of entering the land and dwelling
peacefully and restfully in God's Sabbath rest, Israel was commanded
to observe the weekly Sabbath as a sign of the covenant (Exod.
31:13, 16-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20). Interestingly, even when Israel
enters the land under the leadership of Joshua, Israel still observes
the weekly sign, because, as the author of Hebrews points out,
Joshua did not really give them rest (Heb. 4:8), only a typological,
shadowy rest that pointed beyond itself to the ultimate rest given
through the greater Joshua. Because the land was merely a type
of the non-forfeitable, eternal rest to be enjoyed by the elect
in heaven, Israel's tenure in the land was not irrevocably guaranteed.
Israel in the land was on probation.
Israel's weekly Sabbath is just like Adam's: it comes at the
end of the week, after the preceding six days of work. Israel,
like Adam, is to work first, then once the work is done, to rest.
Israel's Sabbath is therefore a sign of Israel's covenant of works.
Only obedient covenant keepers may rest, and disobedient covenant
breakers cannot enter God's rest. So with Israel. "And to
whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those
who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter
because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:18-19).
Israel's Sabbath, on the last day of the week, is therefore a
sign of the works principle which was in operation under the old
covenant. Of course, the elect among Israel were saved, as are
all sinners after the fall, by faith alone in Christ alone, on
the basis of the covenant of grace first revealed in Gen. 3:15.
However, in addition to the promise of grace, God republished
the covenant of works on a national scale with Israel, not as
a means of justification, but as a disciplinarian unto Christ
(see Paul's summary of the nature and purpose of the Mosaic covenant
in Gal. 3:15-25). The observance of the seventh day of rest in
Israel was a sign of the presence of this works principle which
operated at the typological level of obtaining earthly rest in
the earthly inheritance. The Sabbath taught Israel a very important
and basic theological lesson: in God's kingdom, work comes first,
then rest. 
Israel's failure under the covenant of works led to Israel's ultimate
removal from the land, that is, from the enjoyment of God's rest.
Adam could not bring mankind into God's rest. Joshua could not.
Israel as a nation could not. But when Christ the last Adam and
faithful Israelite comes, he brings us into God's rest once and
for all, by his perfect obedience and works. The work demanded
in the covenant of works has been fulfilled. Therefore, the rest
offered in that covenant has been secured and offered to us in
the gospel. Now, under the gospel, Jesus says, "Come unto
me, all who are weary and are heavy-laden, and I will give you
rest" (Matt. 11:28). By faith alone, apart from works, we
are given rest - not an earthly rest in the land, but the ultimate
eschatological rest of God himself.
Although we do not enter that rest by working first, Christ perfectly
fulfilled the work-rest pattern in our place as the second Adam.
Only when Jesus had finished the work that the Father had given
him to do, did the Father glorify him with the glory that he had
before the foundation of the world (John 4:34; 6:38-39; 17:3-4).
On the cross, he cried out, "It is finished!" (John
19:30). Having thus completed the work as second Adam, Jesus was
raised from the dead on the first day of the week, and given rest
at God's right hand as the reward of his labors (Psalm 2:6-8;
18:16-24; 110:1). His heavenly Father has seen the travail of
his soul, and is satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).
The resurrection of Christ is therefore a crucial event, because it marks the first time that an obedient man has entered into God's eschatological Sabbath. The eternal rest of God himself, originally offered at the beginning of creation, has finally been achieved for man. As the second Adam and inaugurator of a new humanity and a new creation, the eternal rest of the new heavens and the new earth has intruded into the midst of history. The uninterrupted rest of the age to come has already begun. By faith we lay hold of Christ's rest and enter into the enjoyment of it (Heb. 4:1-11). We have put aside our own righteousness and now serve the living God with a clear conscience as the fruit of that rest, not in order to earn it by our sinful works (Heb. 6:1; 9:14). Thus every day is a Sabbath rest in Christ.
You might think that the conclusion we should draw at this point
is that there is no need to observe a weekly Sabbath rest, since
we enjoy our rest in Christ every day. However, there is also
a not-yet aspect of our rest. We still live in mortal bodies that
are weary from earthly toil and labor. We have not yet entered
into the final rest that will be given to us when our bodies are
raised incorruptible and we behold the Lamb in Immanuel's land.
We must not indulge in an over-realized eschatology which leads
to the triumphalistic attitude that we have already arrived. We
are still pilgrims on the way. In keeping with the already/not-yet
tension of New Testament eschatology, therefore, we need a weekly
sign of our ultimate rest. The Sabbath is a weekly "rest
stop" on our journey to heaven, a foretaste of the eternal
rest that awaits us at the end. It is the lamp that lights our
path to heaven. It is the downpayment of the future possession.
Why did Adam and Israel need to observe a weekly Sabbath? To be
sign of the eternal Sabbath. The weekly sign would stir up their
faith and hope and cause them to labor with even greater zeal
in the hope of entering that rest. So we too need a weekly sign.
Even though we have already begun to enjoy the eternal Sabbath
by faith, and so we do not work in order to rest, yet we have
not yet come into the full enjoyment of the eternal rest. We are
still waiting for the consummation of all things, and the resurrection
of our bodies. We are still tempted to forget about our heavenly
hope and get caught up in the things of this present world. So
we need a weekly sign to stir up our faith and hope and longing
for the eternal rest.
And thus you see that the new covenant Sabbath is both similar
to and different from the old covenant Sabbath. The similarity
of the old covenant and new covenant is that, in both, the Sabbath
is an eschatological sign given to man to point the way to his
heavenly hope. The difference is that in the new covenant, that
eschatological hope is achieved by faith, not by works! Therefore,
the sign of the Sabbath must change from the end of the week after
the work, to the beginning of the week before we lift a
finger to do any work. The change of day from Saturday to Sunday
is proof of the fact that the works have already been completed
for us, by Christ. Our rest is secured already. We don't have
to strive and labor and become heavy-laden with the burden of
the Law in order to enter and enjoy our rest. It is finished!
We rest first (the indicative), and then we go out and serve the
Lord in our daily lives (the imperatives). As Vos writes:
Inasmuch as the Old Covenant was still looking forward to the performance of the Messianic work, naturally the days of labour to it come first, the day of rest falls at the end of the week. We, under the New Covenant, look back upon the accomplished work of Christ. We, therefore, first celebrate the rest in principle procured by Christ, although the Sabbath also still remains a sign looking forward to the final eschatological rest. 
How did Israel know when to observe the Sabbath? By looking back
to the original example established by God at creation. "For
in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and
all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore
the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exod.
20:11). How does the church know when to observe the Sabbath?
By looking back to the example established by Christ at the inauguration
of the new creation. On the cross Christ completed the work of
the new creation, and was buried, and rose again to enter his
rest on the first day of the week; therefore, he has blessed the
first day and made it holy (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1;
John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Thus, the early church
called it "the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10; Didache 14:1).
The transition from a covenant of works (work, then rest) to the
covenant of works fulfillment by Christ (rest, then work) is the
basis for the change of the day from the last day of the week
to the first. Christ's resurrection on the first day of the week
then sets the pattern for the new covenant rest, which is focused
on corporate worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2) and enjoyment of
our spiritual rest in Christ (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:1-11), rather
than on the strictness of the Mosaic covenant which prohibited
all physical work on pain of death.
Exposition, Part 2: Practical Considerations
The Lord's Day has been given to us as a means of grace, an opportunity
to reflect upon our present spiritual rest in Christ, and in the
future consummation of that rest in heaven, when all our earthly
toil will be over. The primary thing that we do on the Lord's
Day in order to enjoy this already/not-yet rest is to attend corporate
worship with the saints, in order to enter into the heavenly sanctuary
and fellowship with Christ. Weekly worship is a foretaste of our
eternal worship. The early church gathered together on the first
day of the week for the preaching of the Word and the administration
of the sacraments (Acts 2:42; 20:7), because Jesus had first established
the pattern during his post-resurrection appearances with his
On the day of his resurrection, he met with two disciples on the
road to Emmaus. And what did he do? He preached a redemptive historical
sermon to them, showing them the sufferings of Christ and the
glories that would follow. "Beginning with Moses and with
all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself
in all the Scriptures" (Luke 24:27). And after the ministry
of the Word, Jesus came to them in an even deeper way through
the ministry of the sacrament. "When he had reclined at table
with them, he took bread and blessed it, and breaking it, he gave
it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him"
(vv. 30-31). Afterwards, the disciples said, "Were not our
hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the way,
while he was explaining the Scriptures to us?" (v. 32). And
they reported these things to the other disciples, relating "how
he was recognized by them in the breaking of bread" (v. 35).
Later, Jesus met with all the disciples and pronounced the Aaronic
benediction, "Peace be to you" (v. 36), and so we continue
the practice today at the close of our services. Similar post-resurrection
experiences of fellowship, communion, and instruction are reported
elsewhere (Matt. 26:32; 28:7-10, 16-20; Luke 24:40-45; John 20:19-29;
21:9-14; Acts 1:3-4; 10:41).
The early church was convinced that even after Jesus had ascended into
heaven, he continued to meet with his disciples through the ministry
of the Word and the sacrament.  Ever since that time, the church
assembles on the first day of the week to meet with Jesus, to
have their hearts burn within them as he is proclaimed in all
the Scriptures, and to have their eyes opened as they dine with
their risen Savior in the breaking of bread. "On the first
day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread
[sacrament], Paul began speaking [preaching] to them, intending
to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message [sermon] until
midnight" (Acts 20:7).
So the primary principle in the practical area of new covenant
Sabbath observance is that we ought to be inflexibly committed
to gathering together with God's people on the first day of the
week for public worship in order to fellowship with the risen
Christ through the means of grace.
But there is also a secondary principle of new covenant Sabbath
observance. On this day we are invited to a physical rest as well
as a spiritual rest. The physical rest of the day is a foretaste
of the heavenly rest that we will enjoy at the resurrection. But
again, the motivation is completely different. In the old covenant,
cessation from work was a sign of the fact that their work was
the basis for entering God's rest. In the new covenant, by contrast,
God's people do not cease from physical work for this reason.
Indeed, to rest for this reason would be to reject the finished
work of Christ! Thus, in the new covenant, the goal is not to
cease absolutely from any and all physical exertion, but in order
to enjoy our spiritual rest better. Cessation from work is an
act of faith by which we recognize that we are not, like the world,
striving to build lasting homes in this present age. We don't
have to pursue work the way the world does, investing all our
energy and hopes in this life. We can stop from work every week,
because we are pilgrims on the way to a better homeland (Heb.
11:8-10, 13-16; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). The fact that in the new covenant
this cessation from work is placed at the beginning of the week,
rather than at the end, highlights the fact that when we rest,
we are not really resting "in" our work, as if that
work would eventually lead us to heaven, but "from"
our work, knowing that Christ has already secured heaven for us.
As a pastor I often get questions that take the following form:
"Is it okay to do X on the Lord's Day?" Instead of answering
the question directly, I offer two tests which correspond to and
flow from the two above-mentioned principles. In the first test
I teach people to ask themselves, Will the activity in question
hinder me from participation in the corporate worship of God's
people? Anything that interferes with my ability to worship the
Lord with God's people and to benefit from the ministry of the
Word and sacraments, is obviously unacceptable (with exceptions
for emergencies, sickness, etc.).
The second test is to ask: Is the activity in question conducive
to a spiritually restful frame of mind in which I am reminded
that I am a pilgrim on the way to the eschatological Sabbath rest?
There are many activities that we may engage in on the other six
days, but if done on the Lord's Day might prove to be a spiritual
hindrance. The new covenant Sabbath is to be observed not only
by attending public worship, but by keeping a spiritually restful
frame of mind throughout the day.
This second test is subjective, not in the sense that there is
no right answer, but in the sense that it will be answered differently
by different people. One person may find activity X conducive
to spiritual rest. Another may find that activity X inhibits or
saps spiritual rest. I think Paul's principle that whatever is
not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23) will need to be applied at this
point. If you can do the activity in faith, with a clear conscience,
and in the knowledge that it is going to promote the overall tenor
of the day as "rest stop" on the road to heaven, then
you should do it "without misgivings" (Acts 10:20; 11:12).
Notice that this second test (whatever is of faith) flows from
the nature of the Sabbath as an eschatological sign. The Sabbath
is a weekly reminder of my identity as a pilgrim on the way to
the heavenly city. This world is not my home, I'm just passing
through. If this is what the Sabbath means, then it is observed
by faith, that is, by taking advantage of the opportunity afforded
by this day to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the
week, and to reflect upon and enjoy my eternal rest in Christ.
Since this spiritual resting occurs by faith, abstaining from
certain activities does not automatically produce it, and engaging
in certain activities does not automatically detract from it.
There are, to be sure, various external stimuli that many Christians
will want to avoid, insofar as these stimuli are often found to
detract from a calm and peaceful attitude focused upon Christ.
But even here, the judgment will vary from person to person.
In addition to the two tests above, there is another implication
of my view that the Sabbath is an eschatological sign for the
covenant community. In point 12 above, I state that believers
should not abstain from certain activities solely on the ground
that such activity may cause unbelievers to work on the Sabbath.
This does not mean that any activity which makes unbelievers work
is legitimate. Rather, it means that this concern cannot be the
sole consideration when evaluating the appropriateness of any
given activity. My view forces the individual Christian to make
such evaluations on internal grounds - does it hinder or promote
my spiritual resting on the day? One obvious concrete application
of this is that Christians should feel free to go out to eat at
a restaurant on the Lord's Day as part of their rest. I should
think that our wives would be particularly appreciative of the
opportunity to rest from some of the domestic labors that occupy
them the other six days.
When is church discipline appropriate in Sabbath matters? Because
of the differences that inevitably arise regarding Sabbath sanctification
outside of corporate worship, I believe that sessions should allow
freedom in this area. This doesn't mean that no instruction should
be given. People should be taught the biblical principles, but
the application should be left up to the individual or family.
The only specific application that should be spelled out is the
command to gather with the saints on the first day of the week
for corporate worship. Therefore sessions should reserve the use
of church discipline for those who forsake the assembly of God's
My main concern has to do with the issue of church power, and
the relationship between what is said in the ministry of the Word
and what is implemented by means of church discipline.  If the
pastor preaches that abstaining from X is a mandatory implication
of the fourth commandment, it follows that anyone who does X on
the Sabbath may or ought to be disciplined. To preach one thing
and practice another with respect to discipline sends contradictory
messages. Any ethical teaching which the church refuses to enforce
is ethical teaching which we are saying is biblically doubtful.
Disciplining members who are otherwise faithful in church attendance
is unwarranted by the New Testament, and puts the liberated children
of God back under the weak and beggarly elements of the old covenant
with its strict enforcement of the Sabbath.
We should not be surprised that the new covenant Sabbath is less
characterized by the spirit of bondage and code-like specificity
that stamped the whole old covenant order and especially its stringent
enforcement of the Sabbath. The new covenant people of God are
no longer minors needing the external tablets of stone to govern
and regulate their conduct. We are no longer slaves under the
disciplinarian of the law; in Christ we have taken up our place
as sons in the kingdom (Gal. 3:25-26; 4:1-7). There is therefore
much more freedom for the sons of God to determine how they will
sanctify the Lord's Day.
Those who want detailed legislation for new covenant Sabbath observance
are in danger of putting themselves back in bondage to the Mosaic
Law. To do so would be to miss the real value of the Sabbath as
a lamp lighting the believer's way to heaven. Experiencing and
enjoying this eschatological significance of the Sabbath is far
more important, and beneficial, than becoming consumed with Talmudic
details. Indeed, I fear that the neo-Puritans of today so emphasize
the casuistry of the literal cessation from labor and recreation
that they are in danger of emptying the Sabbath of its rich benefits
by turning it into a covenant of works. Those who may be less
strict in practical matters, but who are using the day to enjoy
a foretaste of their eternal rest in Christ, are the true Sabbatarians.
Is it ever legitimate for someone to do work related to their
regular employment on the Sabbath? I believe that in some cases,
such work may be necessary in order to avoid financial hardship.
How do we determine what constitutes financial hardship? Each
individual will have to make those decisions conscientiously before
the Lord. A materialistic desire for wealth obviously would not
be a legitimate reason. It would not be inappropriate for a pastor
to admonish those who appear to have the wrong priorities in this
matter. But if they reply that they have prayerfully considered
this matter and are acting in faith, and if they are faithful
in church attendance, I do not believe it would be appropriate
for a session to exercise formal discipline. Liberty of conscience
must be preserved even in (or especially in) doubtful cases. However,
pastors should encourage people who feel they must work on Sundays
to schedule their work in such a way that they are not prevented
from regular church attendance.
What are some positive things we should do on the Sabbath? Corporate
worship is obviously primary and non-negotiable. In addition to
church attendance, various spiritual exercises, both privately
and as a family, are also conducive to enjoying our spiritual
rest in Christ on the Lord's Day. Bible reading is highly commended.
Many of us are so busy during the week that we rarely have much
time to meditate deeply on the Word of God. The Lord's Day affords
an excellent opportunity to sit down and read lengthier portions
of Scripture, enabling us to get the rich benefits of seeing the
text in its larger context rather than focusing devotionally on
a brief paragraph or handful of verses. For example, it is a rewarding
exercise to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting.
The Lord's Day also affords the opportunity to catechize our covenant
children - not merely in the formal sense of memorizing the catechism,
but informally as well, through discussions about the sermon,
the Bible reading, and so on. I also encourage members of the
church to invite other members and visitors over to their house
for afternoon/evening fellowship. If there are opportunities for
good works of mercy (e.g., visiting shut-ins or people on skid
row), that is also to be commended. If your church has an evening
service, I would also recommend attending the second service,
although I do not see it as an absolute requirement, since there
is no Scriptural command to attend worship twice on the
Lord's Day. In some ways, however, attending an evening service
can make it difficult to do the other things like catechizing
and fellowshiping with the saints, since there is only so much
time in the day (significant commutes to and from church are also
increasingly a factor today). Each individual or family will have
to make these decisions prayerfully before the Lord. It is tempting
to want to do everything every Lord's Day, but we must also keep
in mind that physical rest is a significant part of spiritual
Objection # 1:
"How do you reconcile your acknowledgment that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance with your view that the Sabbath is exclusively for the covenant community?" 
The phrase "creation ordinance" brings to mind certain
duties that are given to all mankind, such as marriage, labor,
and the dominion mandate.  Most of these creation ordinances are
applicable, not just to the covenant people of God, but to all
mankind by virtue of their being rooted in the creation order.
It would seem, then, that the Sabbath too is of universal morality.
The Sabbath, however, wasn't first and foremost part of Adam's
duty toward God, as the other creation ordinances. The Sabbath
was a (conditional) promise on the part of God to Adam. This does
not mean that there was no duty involved, but the duty flowed
from the promise: since Adam was promised the eschatological
rest, if he fulfilled the covenant of works, therefore he was
to observe the weekly sign of that promised rest. The duty never
existed apart from the promise, but came to Adam precisely because
of the promise. If promise creates duty, then the duty evaporates
as soon as the promise is retracted. After Adam's fall, the promise
of eschatological rest is no longer offered to all mankind, only
to the covenant community in Christ. Therefore, since the unbeliever
has no promise, he has no duty.
The creation ordinances cannot be understood apart from their
covenantal context. Certain creation ordinances were reissued
after the fall for mankind in general (e.g., marriage and labor).
But the fall must also be taken into account in terms of the effects
it has on the way these ordinances get applied in the post-fall
situation. For example, the dominion mandate is still in effect,
but it no longer has any eschatological promise attached to it.
Man as man, both believer and unbeliever, exercises a certain
dominion over creation, and is involved in the general task of
procreation and filling the earth. But the eschatological fruition
of that labor has been frustrated by death and man's dominion
produces only temporal goods mixed with thorns and thistles. Man's
post-fall cultural labor is part of common grace - it is not holy,
i.e., it will not enjoy eschatological consummation. 
Similar considerations apply to the pre-fall Sabbath ordinance.
It was connected directly with the eschatological aspect of the
covenant of works. If man successfully moved beyond covenant probation
to the state of confirmation in righteousness, he would then have
entered into God's own eternal rest. As long as the covenant probation
was not yet closed in either failure or success, the weekly Sabbath
was a sign to him of this great hope. After the fall, however,
the covenant probation closed and became covenant curse for all
mankind (apart from grace). Thus the unbeliever is under the covenant
of works only in the sense that he lies under its condemnation
inherited from Adam. The prospect of entering into God's rest
by means of the covenant of works no longer remains. It is significant,
I believe, that, unlike marriage and labor (Gen. 3:16ff), the
Sabbath sign was not reissued after the fall when God established
the common grace order for all mankind. The Sabbath sign is not
reissued again until the giving of the Mosaic Law. 
But aren't unbelievers still in Adam under the covenant of works?
Wouldn't it be proper, then, to argue that the Sabbath requirement,
as the sign of the covenant of works, remains binding on all men
in Adam? This is a plausible argument, but we must distinguish
between being under the probation of the covenant of works with
its eschatological prospect (the post-fall sons of Adam today
are not under that) and being under the curse of the covenant
(they are under that). The covenant of works is not an
ahistorical "do this and live" principle but a concrete
historical administration of God's holy kingdom in time. The covenant
breach of the federal head, Adam, changes the nature of the unbeliever's
relationship to the covenant in significant ways.
There is a sense in which the weekly Sabbath command confronts
the unbeliever by virtue of his covenantal union with Adam. This
is so because man, even after the fall, remains a creature in
the image of God, created for eternal rest with God. The Sabbath
command in this sense is unfulfillable, just as the covenant of
works as a whole is unfulfillable.
However, the manner in which the Sabbath command continues to
confront fallen mankind in Adam is somewhat different than the
manner in which the command, say, to not commit adultery confronts
him. Although the unbeliever's "obedience" does not
flow from a heart purified by faith, nor is it offered to the
glory of God, nevertheless he can still keep the seventh commandment
"for the matter of it" (WCF XVI:7). Abstaining from
adultery itself is "doable" in some outward sense. But
the Sabbath command is more like the first commandment. An unbeliever
cannot avoid idolatry in some outward way. He must first become
a believer. He can only worship the true and living God through
Jesus Christ. Not worshipping Baal is meaningless unless it is
replaced by worshipping Yahweh.
So with the Sabbath. The unbeliever may attempt to keep the Sabbath
in some external manner, but all his attempts will be futile and
in fact sinful, unless he first puts his trust in Christ. First
of all, if he tried to keep the Sabbath as an unbeliever under
the creational covenant of works, he would be placing himself
under the impossible requirement of perfect obedience. Second,
he would be obligated to keep the seventh day holy - an
activity that, after the coming of Christ, is nothing less than
a sinful denial of Christ (Col. 2:16-18). Third, even if the unbeliever
were to attempt to keep the first day of the week holy,
he would still be unable to keep it properly, since not working
in itself is meaningless unless it is a rest from one's labors
in the knowledge that Jesus has performed the labor for us and
given us the rest. The Lord's Day isn't about what you do or don't
do on that day. It's about faith - it's about our eschatological
hope secured by Christ.
Thus, although the curse of the covenant of works is still in
effect, its offer of eschatological consummation has been retracted.
To be sure, the promise of the eternal Sabbath is now held out
to all men in Christ. But that means the only way in which the
Sabbath command confronts the unbeliever is through the free offer
of the gospel. "Come unto me all you who labor and I will
give you rest. And as a pledge of that rest I will also give you
the privilege of setting aside the cares and concerns of your
labor-filled week as you gather together with God's people to
rejoice in the heavenly rest that Christ alone can give."
Objection # 2:
"Since the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments, and since the ten commandments are a summary of the moral law (and the moral law is binding on all men) - doesn't it follow that the Sabbath is binding on all men?" 
As I have argued above, the weekly Sabbath was ordained by God
to be a sign of the eschatological promise offered under the covenant
of works, both in the original pre-fall works arrangement with
Adam (Gen. 2:2-3), and in the post-fall, typologically modified
form given to Israel (Exodus 31:13-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20). Promise
establishes duty. Wherever the promise signified by the Sabbath
remains, the duty of observing the Sabbath remains. Wherever the
promise is withdrawn, the duty is likewise withdrawn. The only
people to whom the Sabbath ordinance applies in the present age
is the church of Jesus Christ, in whom alone the Sabbath promise
is realized by faith in the second Adam.
Special attention should be paid to the revelation concerning
the Mosaic Sabbath, which in turn sheds its backward light on
the original creation Sabbath. The Mosaic Sabbath is expressly
said to have been "given" (Exod. 16:29) by Yahweh to
the people of Israel to be a sign of the covenant relationship
between Yahweh and his covenant people. "You shall surely
observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout
your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies
It is an everlasting sign between Me and the sons of
Israel" (Exod. 31:13, 17).
This language is parallel to other covenantal signs - the rainbow
(Gen. 9:12) and circumcision (Gen. 17:10-11), both of which are
said to be signs of their respective covenants. In no case is
the covenant sign to be kept by anyone who is not a rightful party
to the covenant and its blessings. The rainbow is a universal
sign, because it is the sign of the covenant of common grace between
God and every living creature on the earth. The sign of circumcision,
however, is given only to those who are party to the Abrahamic
covenant of redemptive promise to be fulfilled in Christ. Those
who are not circumcised are in fact to be cut off from the covenant
community. It is clear that the Mosaic covenant, of which the
Sabbath was the sign, was not made with the world at large, but
only with the redeemed community of Israel whom God had delivered
out of Egypt in fulfillment of his promise to Abraham.
Furthermore, consider the additional statement that the Sabbath
is given to Israel so that God's people might "know that
I am the LORD you sanctifies you" (Exod. 31:13). Compare
the parallel statements in Ezekiel, where the initial exodus complex
of events is being recounted: "Also I gave them My sabbaths
to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I
am the LORD who sanctifies them" (Ezek. 20:12); "Sanctify
My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that
you may know that I am the LORD your God" (v. 20). The term
"sanctify" was originally used in Gen. 2:2-3. God sanctified
the seventh day to be a special and holy day, set apart from the
other six. Thus, when Israel later "sanctifies" the
Sabbath day by keeping it holy, Israel too is "sanctified"
by the LORD and set part from the profane nations around it. Just
as the sign of circumcision set the covenant seed of Abraham apart,
so the sign of the Sabbath sanctifies Israel in the sight of the
These exegetical data have important implications for one's interpretation,
not just of the fourth commandment, but of the Decalogue as a
whole. They call into question the long-standing opinion that
each of the ten commandments is rooted in the abiding moral will
of God. In addition to the fourth commandment itself, numerous
aspects of the Decalogue are directed specifically to the covenant
community (e.g. Exod. 20:2, 5-6, 7, 8-11, 12b). Indeed, so intimate
is the connection between the Decalogue and the covenant made
with Israel at Sinai, the ten commandments are frequently referred
to in Scripture as the covenant itself (Exod. 34:28; Deut. 4:13;
5:2ff; 9:9-11; 1 Kings 8:9). There is a sense in which the entire
Decalogue was limited to the covenant community only. The preamble
to the Decalogue places a covenantal limiter on the Decalogue,
grounding the stipulations that follow in the historically particular
act of redemption at the exodus.  We must not suppress the force
of this mounting exegetical data, even if it means we must rethink
On the other hand, granting all of this evidence pointing to the
covenantal nature of the Decalogue, we must also recognize that,
with the exception of the fourth commandment, nine of the commandments
do constitute a summary of God's moral will - albeit in typological-covenantal
form (as seen, for example, in the fifth commandment's promise
of long life in the land of Canaan). Although we cannot say that
the Decalogue per se is binding on all men, it is certainly legitimate
to say that nine of the ten commandments overlap with the moral
will of God revealed in creation and conscience.
Why is the fourth commandment the only commandment of the ten
that is not grounded in the moral will of God? The purpose of
the Mosaic Law (of which the Decalogue was the summary, written
on tablets of stone) was not to provide a timeless list of eternal
commands binding on all men, but to function as a covenantally
particular and typological re-enactment of Adam's probation in
the garden. The Sabbath is included in the Decalogue precisely
in order to signal that this is the covenant of works, and that
Israel is now on probation in the land ("My rest" -
Psalm 95). Israel's obedience to the other nine commandments is
functioning within the context of the covenant of works.
The traditional explanation is on the right track: the Decalogue
is clearly set apart from the rest of the Mosaic legislation.
Unlike the rest of the Mosaic corpus of laws, the Decalogue was
written directly by the finger of God, on tablets of stone, and
placed inside the ark of the covenant. It is unique also in that
it does not contain any ceremonial or cultic legislation pertaining
to sacrifice, the clean and unclean distinction, etc. There seems
to be a divine spotlight on the Decalogue, as if God wanted to
say to Israel, "Here are the really important and crucial
commandments; the rest is either application and outworking of
the principles contained here, or else mere positive law."
Good. But how do we then account for the unique typological elements
in the Decalogue: the promise of long life in the land; the curse
sanction added to the second commandment; the seventh day rest,
etc.? The view that the Decalogue is a covenantally specific,
typological re-enactment of the Adamic covenant of works, pertaining
to the probationary nature of Israel's national election and inheritance
accounts for everything that the traditional explanation covers,
plus the features it can't explain. It explains (1) why the Decalogue
seems to be mainly "moral" law (because a republication
of the Adamic covenant of works ought to enshrine the core
creation ethic rooted in God's nature), and (2) why the Decalogue
also contains the typological elements mentioned above (because
it is a typological republication of the Adamic covenant
of works in which Israel's tenure in the land is a picture of
our ultimate, eschatological inheritance in the heavenly places).
This then explains why the fourth commandment is unique among
the ten commandments in that it is binding only on the covenant
community. As the sign of the covenant of works, the fourth commandment
rightly belongs amid the stipulations in which the covenant of
works is summarily comprehended. 
Was the Sabbath in force for the people of God prior to the giving
of the Mosaic Law? There is no hint in the books of Genesis or
Exodus that the pre-Mosaic covenant community observed (or was
required to observe) the Sabbath after the fall. The first mention
of the Sabbath after the fall is Exodus 16:22-30, where the Israelites
are instructed to gather twice as much manna on the sixth day
so that they may keep the Sabbath day holy. The narrative suggests
that the people did not previously know or practice the Sabbath,
for even after they were instructed not to look for manna on the
Sabbath, "some of the people went out to gather, but they
found none" (v. 27).
In addition, we may also appeal to broader theological considerations.
In Romans 5:12-14, Paul implies that the works principle originally
established with Adam before the fall reappeared in the Mosaic
economy. "From Adam until Moses" is therefore a distinctive
epoch in redemptive history, an epoch governed not by the works
principle but by the original gospel promise of Gen. 3:15, subsequently
expanded in God's covenantal revelation to Noah and Abraham. Because
the seventh-day Sabbath was a covenantal sign of the eschatological
advancement offered to Adam in the covenant of works, it would
not have been appropriate for the people of God after the fall
to observe the Sabbath until the works principle is re-enacted
on the typological layer of Israel's retention of the land.
Although the Sabbath sign per se was not given to the covenant
community until the coming of the Mosaic Law, the pre-Mosaic people
of God did consecrate themselves to God by means of altar worship.
We see this from the very beginning: "It came about in the
course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the
fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part, also brought of the firstlings
of his flock and of their fat portions" (Gen. 4:3-4).  The
godly line were known by this distinctive, that they built altars
and called upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 4:26). However, this
altar worship seems to have been conducted on an occasional basis,
not once a week, or on any other formal cycle. From time to time,
the LORD appeared to his servants, or granted them some deliverance,
and they would commemorate these occasions by building an altar
and offering sacrifices to the LORD (e.g., Gen. 12:7-8; 13:18;
21:33; 26:24-25; 28:20-22; 33:18-20; 35:3, 7).
Comparison with other positions
A. The Westminster Confession
The Westminster Confession XXI:7 states:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath 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, in Scripture, is called the Lord's day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian sabbath.
If the exegesis presented in this paper is correct, the statement
that the Sabbath is "a positive, moral and perpetual commandment
binding all men in all ages" is not Scriptural. I am of the
opinion that the Confession ought to be revised to bring it into
line with the Scriptural teaching that the Sabbath is an eschatological
sign for the covenant community.
The statement that "it is the law of nature, that, in general,
a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God"
(WCF XXI:7) is true. But the observance of a weekly day of rest
is not the same thing as the requirement to set aside time for
the worship of God. A weekly day of rest may coincide with the
appointed worship of the covenant community, but the Sabbath per
se is an eschatological sign containing an express promise
of rest to those who are given the sign (Heb. 4:9).
I have no problem with the second half of the above paragraph:
"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,
in Scripture, is called the Lord's day, and is to be continued
to the end of the world, as the Christian sabbath." That
is a very balanced and biblical statement it seems to me. However,
I'm not in complete agreement with all of the exegesis that stands
behind that statement. Consider Shorter Catechism question 58:
Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.
According to the Westminster divines, the fourth commandment only
sets forth the ratio - "expressly one whole day in seven"
is to be kept as a holy Sabbath unto the Lord. But Exodus 20:9-11
clearly requires seventh day observance. The seventh-day Sabbatarians
are more faithful exegetes at this point. Although they miss the
redemptive historical shift that occurred in the transition from
the old covenant to the new, they correctly interpret the fourth
commandment itself. The seventh-day Sabbatarians and the first-day
Sabbatarians both err, however, in viewing the ten commandments
as "a perfect rule of righteousness" binding on all
men, including the new covenant people of God. The misguided attempt
on the part of first-day Sabbatarians to avoid seventh-day observance
in the new covenant age by re-interpreting the fourth commandment
as merely setting forth the ratio ought to have pushed them to
reconsider the premise that the ten commandments are a summary
of the timeless moral law of God.
Perhaps the gravest error in the divines' handling of the fourth
commandment is that they seem to suggest that it doesn't make
much difference whether the Sabbath is observed on Saturday or
Sunday. The implication seems to be that while the day may have
changed, the nature of the Sabbath itself has not. The change
of day is a superficial matter of outward administration, thus
blurring the sharp contrast between the works principle inherent
in the old covenant Sabbath (work, then rest) and the faith principle
inherent in the new covenant Lord's Day (rest, then work). In
the Puritan view of the Sabbath there is nothing "new"
about the new covenant day of rest. It is just the same, old covenant
Sabbath, shifted to Sunday. As one who has come to appreciate
the redemptive historical nature of the Scriptures, I believe
this approach is deficient. A proper redemptive historical consideration
of this subject demands that we consider the significance of the
change in terms of the epochal transition from the old covenant
to the new, from a covenant of works to be kept by Israel, to
the covenant of works fulfilled by Christ.
In addition, the Confession tends to reduce the Sabbath command
to the issue of the "when" of worship, thus ignoring
or downplaying the eschatological significance of the Sabbath.
I am not alone is detecting a weakness in the presentation of
the Sabbath in the Westminster Standards. The OPC General Assembly
Report of the Committee on
Sabbath Matters points out the lack
of any teaching on the eschatological significance of the Sabbath:
The weekly Sabbath is an eschatological sign. This truth, central to the teaching of Hebrews 3:7-4:13 as well as fundamental to the entire biblical revelation concerning the Sabbath, does not find expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The reason for this would appear to be that the Standards mention the Sabbath commandment primarily in terms of its bearing on the more specific matter of public and private worship.
I suspect that this non-eschatological view of the Sabbath is
part of the reason why the authors of the Confession thought that
the Sabbath was applicable to the unbeliever. If you begin by
defining the Sabbath as a day set aside for the worship of God,
it makes sense to argue that, since all men are obligated to worship
God, they are obligated also to set aside the day in order to
fulfill that duty. The medieval, theocratic notion of Christendom
that the divines inherited from the magisterial reformers undoubtedly
played a role in this thinking. All of society has an obligation
to attend public worship. The Sabbath is merely the day when all
of society must "shut down" in order to ensure (by means
of "blue law" legislation) that public worship is attended
But if the Sabbath is fundamentally a sign of our eschatological
rest, with worship being a realized dimension of that eschatological
rest, it becomes clear that the Sabbath belongs only to those
who are entering that rest by faith. This in turn sharpens our
view of what is really taking place in the church's worship. Worship
isn't a societal duty grounded in creation, but a covenant meeting
of the whole church both militant and triumphant, accompanied
by myriads of angels, with the Sabbath-enthroned Lord Jesus Christ
in heaven. A sharper distinction between church and society, between
the city of God and the city of man, leads to a much more exalted
view both of worship and of the Sabbath. Indeed, the Sabbath then
becomes a sign of the covenant which distinguishes God's people
from the world, demonstrating that the church is a pilgrim people
living not for this passing age, but for the glory of the age
B. The Continental View
Heidelberg Catechism, question 103:
Q. What does God require in the fourth commandment?
A. First, that the ministry of the gospel and Christian education be maintained, and that I diligently attend church, especially on the Lord's day, to hear the Word of God, to participate in the holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian service to those in need. Second, that I cease from my evil works all the days of my life, allow the Lord to work in me through his Spirit, and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.
In terms of practice, my view is basically the same, since I want
to place the accent on corporate worship. I agree with the continental
view that the fundamental duty of the Sabbath command for the
New Testament believer is fulfilled by diligently attending church
to hear the Word of God and participate in the sacraments. In
every passage where the New Testament mentions the Lord's day
or the first day of the week, it is always with reference to fellowship
with the risen Christ by means of the Word and the sacrament (Luke
24:1, 13-53; John 20:19-29; Acts 10:41; 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev.
In addition to this focus on the centrality of corporate worship
in Sabbath sanctification, I also agree with the Continental view
in not bringing the new covenant church under the more stringent
requirements of the old covenant Sabbath. The Puritan doctrine
of the Sabbath includes a strong emphasis on literal resting from
labor, recreation, and other cultural activity. The Continental
view, by contrast, "spiritualizes" the rest required
in the old covenant. It is no longer a literal ceasing from worldly
employments and recreations, as in the Puritan Sabbath, but a
purely spiritual rest in Christ. Of course, the Puritans would
not have viewed the matter as an either/or proposition, and would
have wanted to stress that resting from worldly employments is
one means by which we enjoy our spiritual rest in Christ. But
I believe the Continental view is partially on the right track
in placing the accent and priority on the believer's spiritual
rest. This is in keeping with the progression of redemptive history
from Israel's life in the land to the new covenant's enjoyment
of rest in Christ.
However, the Continental view suffers from a major flaw right
at this point: the works from which we are to rest are considered
to be our evil works. This is based on a misunderstanding
of Heb. 4:10; 9:14; Matt. 11:28-30. The result of this interpretation
is that every day is a Sabbath rest in Christ for the Christian.
But this makes non-sense out of the Sabbath command. For the Sabbath
ordinance at creation was a resting from things that are lawful
on the other six days. Therefore, in spite of my fundamental sympathy
for the Continental view, at least as an alternative to the "Mosaicizing"
tendency of the Puritan Sabbath, I maintain that there is an aspect
of our rest which involves resting from things that are lawful
on the other six days. This fits in perfectly with the idea that
the Sabbath is a weekly reminder of our eternal rest in the consummation,
for the rest that we shall enter at the consummation, and of which
the weekly Sabbath is a sign, is not a rest from sin merely (though
that is included) but a rest from our pilgrim travails in this
present evil age.
Another weakness of the Continental view - in my opinion, this
weakness constitutes its ultimate invalidation - is that it fails
to appreciate the implications of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance
(Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 20:11). Since the Continental position interprets
the Sabbath not as a creation ordinance but as part of the ceremonial
law, the Sabbath strictly speaking has been abrogated in the new
covenant. The implication is that the Lord's Day as the day of
Christian worship is of ecclesiastical authority only. The church
could have chosen another day, or even a different weekly cycle.
Ultimately, the church's establishment of the Christian Sunday
as a day of worship is guided primarily by the church's need for
a day of worship and for the propagation of the gospel and Christian
doctrine ("that the ministry of the gospel and Christian
education be maintained"). By contrast, I believe that, because
it is an eschatological pointer grounded in creation, observance
of the Sabbath in the new covenant (on the first day of the week)
is covenantally demanded. The Sabbath rest offered in the primeval
covenant has been achieved by the Second Adam in the new covenant
via his resurrection/ascension. The church not only may but must
set aside the first day of the week for worship in order to enter
into the heavenly theocratic Sabbath of Christ, as a covenantally
demanded weekly sign of the pilgrim church's eschatological goal.
The resurrection of Christ, and our co-resurrection with him,
is the inaugurated form of the final Sabbath in eternity.
The Puritan doctrine, as over against the Continental, rightly
points to the exegetical evidence that the Mosaic Sabbath reaches
back to the creation ordinance, thus correctly demonstrating that
the fourth commandment is not merely ceremonial. The Continental
view, as over against the Puritan, rightly points to the exegetical
evidence that the Christian Sabbath is a primarily spiritual rest
in Christ, thus correctly demonstrating that the Lord's Day is
not merely the Mosaic Sabbath moved to a different position in
the week. The Puritan view fails to recognize the eschatological
significance of the Sabbath, and thus is blind to the dramatic
changes that of necessity occur when that eschatology reaches
its definitive fulfillment in Christ. The Continental view rightly
senses the eschatological significance of the Sabbath, but due
to its failure to link that eschatology to the creational covenant
of works, the believer's Sabbath rest in Christ is pure "already,"
untempered by the pilgrim's longing for the "not-yet."
C. Professor Meredith Kline
The covenantal-biblical theology of Meredith Kline points the
way forward for developing the positive insights of both traditions
in order to advance the church's thinking and practice in the
area of the Sabbath. All that I have written above is obviously
rooted in Kline's basic approach, though I do have some reservations,
as will be clear in what follows.
In a nutshell, Kline's unique contribution to the doctrine of
the Sabbath relates to his conception of cult and culture. Kline
sees the pattern of "work followed by rest" as a theocratic
concept, wherein one's resting from cultural labors stamps that
cultural labor, within a theocratic context, as eschatologically
oriented, that is, as bound for eschatological consummation by
means of ultimate participation in the eternal Sabbath rest of
God. Obviously this applied only in the pre-fall theocracy and
the Mosaic theocracy. Now, in the church age, all cultural activity
is part of the common grace arena and is no longer eschatologically
oriented. To rest from one's cultural labors now would be to mark
common grace activity, which is destined to perish at the parousia,
with the false sign of Sabbatical consummation.
This does not mean, however, that the church has no theocratic
dimension in her experience. Rather, the theocratic Kingdom has
been transferred to heaven where Christ is, enthroned in heaven
in his royal Sabbath rest. Because the church enters that heavenly
theocratic realm by means of corporate worship, the rest aspect
of the NT Sabbath occurs only during that time of worship. As
Moreover, since the Sabbath is a sign of sanctification marking that which receives its imprint as belonging to God's holy kingdom with promise of consummation, the Sabbath will have relevance and application at any given epoch of redemptive history only in the holy dimension(s) of the life of the covenant people. Thus, after the Fall, not only will the Sabbath pertain exclusively to the covenant community as a holy people called out of the profane world, but even for them the Sabbath will find expression, in a nontheocratic situation, only where they are convoked in covenant assembly, as the ekklesia-extension of the heavenly assembly of God's Sabbath enthronement. That is, Sabbath observance will have to do only with their holy cultic (but not their common cultural) activity. 
Kline views the Sabbath as an eschatological "stamp."
Whatever you rest from becomes stamped with the label "heaven-bound."
In a theocracy, both cult and culture are holy, heaven-bound,
destined for eschatological consummation (of course, in the Mosaic
theocracy, this destination was typological only - in contrast
with the pre-fall theocratic order). But we no longer live in
a theocracy - culture is no longer holy but common. Therefore,
to rest from cultural activity would be to stamp it inappropriately
with the heaven-bound label. It would be to sacralize the common
However, Kline recognizes that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance
and therefore must have some continuity in our current non-theocratic
context. So for Kline the Sabbath is kept today only during the
gathering of the covenant community when it ascends into the heavenly
realized theocracy during the formal worship service. Whatever
one does outside that context on the Lord's Day is common grace
activity and is acceptable as long as it doesn't interfere with
one's duty to attend church. In the church age, only cultic activity
is holy, or heaven-bound. Cultural activity is common, destined
for destruction not consummation.
I am in complete agreement with Kline's interpretation of the
function of the Sabbath as a sign of the covenant, thus limiting
its observance to the covenant community. I also agree with his
theocratic analysis of the Sabbath in the pre-fall and Mosaic
economies. But I have reservations about his exclusive application
of the new covenant Sabbath sign to the cultic activity of the
assembled church. The implication seems to be that our Sabbath
duties are exhaustively fulfilled by attending corporate worship.
Furthermore, not only are Christians permitted to engage
in cultural activity on the Lord's Day outside of public worship,
they are positively required to do so. For to rest from
cultural activity on the Lord's Day would be to place the holy
stamp of eschatological consummation upon non-holy cultural activity,
thus profaning the Sabbath.
Ironically, those whose Sabbath practice is more in line with
the Puritan approach of resting all the day from "worldly
employments and recreations" are the greatest violators of
the Sabbath, and are theoretically subject to church discipline.
I doubt that Kline would want to see his view implemented in our
churches with such unyielding disciplinary rigor. But even if
strict Sabbatarians are permitted the freedom to practice the
Puritan Sabbath according to the light of their conscience, it
still does not ring true to say that resting from cultural activity
on the Lord's Day is sinful. I want to avoid laying heavy burdens
upon God's people - whether it be the intolerable yoke of the
strict Sabbatarians who say that we must rest from any and all
cultural activity, or an inflexible application of Kline's exegetical
insights in which the church's freedom from the Mosaic Sabbath
is distorted into a new legalism requiring that we engage in cultural
activity on the Lord's Day.
Is it possible to avoid such inflexible applications and still
remain true to Kline's basic insights? I believe so. In order
to accomplish this Kline's doctrine of the Sabbath needs to be
re-tooled at two points.
First, Kline's strict identification of the Sabbath as a theocratic
sign needs to be fine tuned. A theocratic interpretation is valid
when we are dealing with the Sabbath as it existed in the pre-fall
and Mosaic economies. The Sabbath structure of Gen. 1:1-2:3 (the
framework of the two triads of days culminating in the seventh
day of the Creator's Sabbath enthronement) shows that the Sabbath
functioned to mark the theocratic situation - Adam's cultural
work would have led to glory. But when Kline then applies this
premise to the church's current non-theocratic situation, he assumes
that the Sabbath must have the same function there, and so he
proceeds to look for the one area in the non-theocratic context
that is theocratic and finds it in the church's access in worship
to the heavenly (theocratic) realm.
Notice that the Sabbath sign, when applied by Kline to the cultic
activity of the church, loses its "stamping" function.
For what is the church resting from, when it engages in
its corporate cultic activity of worship? The problem here is
one of equivocation. The term "Sabbath" is being used
in reference to two very different things: the seventh day of
rest required in the pre-fall and Mosaic covenants, and the first
day of the new covenant. When applied to the seventh day of rest
in the pre-fall and Mosaic covenants, the weekly Sabbath rest
clearly possesses a stamping function. The stamping function of
the pre-Messianic Sabbath was bound up with the eschatologically
forward-looking position of the covenant community (whether pre-fall
By contrast, the weekly observance of a day of rest in the new
covenant is not a type of the eschatological Sabbath rest to come,
but a "sacrament" of the rest presently realized by
the Sabbath-enthroned Christ in heaven. By means of the resurrection
of Christ as our federal head, the people of God have already
begun to enjoy the eschatological Sabbath rest itself, of which
the weekly observance of a day of rest in the old covenant was
but a type. When applied to the first day remembrance of the resurrection
of Christ in the new covenant, there is nothing to stamp because
the eschatological goal has already been achieved. Thus, it is
not necessary for Kline to restrict the weekly sign to the church's
cultic activity as if, unrestricted, the sign might otherwise
stamp believers' cultural activity as bound for eschatological
consummation. Kline's equivocal use of the term "Sabbath"
hides the fact that the sign has changed to the first day of the
week. Its placement at the beginning of the week before
the cultural activity of the other six days, is sufficient evidence
that the cultural stamping function has dropped away in the new
Second, Kline's approach seems to presuppose a reductionistic
ecclesiology. By referring to the cultic activity of the new
covenant church as "the ekklesia-extension of the
heavenly assembly," is Kline adopting the view that the ekklesia
is constituted only when the local congregation is gathered
together for worship to participate in the heavenly ekklesia
of Hebrews 12:22-24?  While attractive to many biblical theologians,
this view is implicitly congregational, since it denies the label
"church" to other visible manifestations of the church,
such as the regional church or even the universal visible church. 
Kevin Giles has defended the thesis that in the NT ekklesia
most often refers to a community of Christians, whether in a given
locality or throughout the world, and not necessarily only when
they are assembled together for worship. 
What is the relevance of this foray into ecclesiology for Kline's
distinctive view of the Sabbath? Kline argues that in the current
non-theocratic epoch, the Sabbath finds expression only when the
congregation is convoked together in its cultic activity, since
that is the only "theocratic moment" in the church's
life prior to the consummation. But if the church is seated with
her theocratic King in the heavenly places even when not formally
gathered for worship, then the theocratic dimension cannot be
restricted to the cultic dimension. The following texts seem to
suggest that the church's theocratic identity in Christ is not
temporally limited to times of formal worship. Believers presently
"reign in life" by virtue of federal union with the
second Adam (Rom. 5:17), are "seated with him in the heavenly
places" (Eph. 2:6), and are "a kingdom of priests"
who presently "reign with Christ" in heaven during the
church age (Rev. 1:6; 20:4), a foretaste of their future "reign
upon the earth" after the judgment (Rev. 5:10).
Taking these two modifications together, it appears that the new
covenant day of rest may have some relevance even in the non-cultic
(i.e., cultural) activities of God's people. The Sabbath sign,
in its new covenant form (the Lord's Day), has been placed upon
the church, whose mode of kingdom existence is a semi-eschatological
theocracy. As a semi-eschatological theocracy, the church's theocratic
dimension is bound up with the mystery of the "already"
and "not-yet" character of the reign of her exalted
theocratic King. Presently, the church is seated with Christ
in the heavenly places, reigning with him as a kingdom of priests.
The earthly, visible manifestation of Christ's theocratic reign
(and the church's participation therein) awaits future consummation
at his second coming. While we patiently wait for the visible
manifestation of Christ's kingdom in the new creation, the weekly
sign of the Lord's Day reminds us that our cultural activity cannot
bring the kingdom to its consummation glory and fullness. Resting
on the first day of the week before we go about our cultural
activity during the remainder of the week is the decisive proof
of this. By resting at the beginning of our work-week, we confess
that the future eschatological kingdom-rest has already
been achieved in principle by the second Adam who alone will bring
the cultural mandate to its visible theocratic fulfillment in
New covenant believers may rest weekly from their worldly toil,
as a semi-eschatological, semi-theocratic  sign of the consummation
of their rest, even when not formally assembled corporately. It
is proper for the wandering people of God to take time out from
their common cultural endeavors on the Lord's Day in order to
express their recognition of the vanity of those endeavors, and
to stir up their hope in the resurrection when they will rest
once for all from their pilgrim toil and enter into the perfect
rest of Christ. Every Lord's Day we are invited to rest from our
ceaseless toil and labor, which because of the fall is "vanity
of vanities" and cannot receive the blessing of eschatological
consummation (although some of it may receive the blessing of
divine reward - 1 Cor. 15:58). By resting from our cultural
activity we rest in Christ's cultural activity as the second
This does not mean that no common cultural activity
whatsoever is permissible on the Lord's Day. I can think of many
cultural activities that could be appropriate on that day if they
were enjoyed in a spiritually restful frame of mind. Such permission
is granted in the new covenant because the Lord's Day is semi-theocratic
outside of the worship of the assembly. In a theocratic order,
all cultural activity is rigidly excluded on the Sabbath due to
the eschatological significance of the resting from it as a way
of "stamping" it as heaven-bound. Hence the extreme
judgment on the Sabbath breaker in Numbers 15:32-36. In a semi-theocratic
situation, cultural activity is not so rigidly excluded on pain
of death. The need to rest from toilsome cultural activity remains,
not as an absolute requirement, but in the interests of promoting
spiritual rest in Christ. Since this rest is spiritual and internal,
the question of what types of outward activities one may engage
in on the Sabbath recedes into the background, as long as worship
is attended and the rest of heaven is tasted. Though the cultural
labors of semi-theocratic pilgrims are not heaven-bound, pilgrims
do need to stop from time to time and remind themselves that they
In sum, my view of the Sabbath is deeply influenced by Kline's.
We agree that the Sabbath is a sign of eschatological rest, and
that it is therefore given only to the covenant community. We
also agree that in both the pre-fall and Mosaic theocracies, the
Sabbath served as a sign to stamp cultural activity as bound for
the eschatological Sabbath consummation. Kline speaks of this
as the Sabbath sign's theocratic stamping function. Where we differ
is whether this stamping function continues in the new covenant.
In my view, the Sabbath is primarily an eschatological sign, and
only secondarily a theocratic stamp. The function of the Sabbath
as an eschatological sign continues in the new covenant, while
its function as a theocratic stamp drops away with the change
What difference does this make practically in terms of how we
think the Lord's Day ought to be observed? It seems to boil down
to this. Since Kline thinks the stamping function continues in
the new covenant, the Sabbath is observed exclusively during corporate
worship, placing the remaining hours of the day outside of worship
in the same status as the other non-holy days of the week. In
my view, the Sabbath is observed primarily during corporate worship,
and the remaining hours of the day are to be kept holy by maintaining
a spiritually restful frame of mind, and by resting from toilsome
cultural activity - though allowing liberty for some cultural
activity within the limits of the twofold test stated in thesis
14 above. For Kline, the new covenant Sabbath is exclusively cultic.
I agree that the cultic dimension is primary, but since it is
an eschatological sign, it seems to me that there is also a secondary
cultural aspect to our weekly rest as pilgrims "on
In addition to the evidence in the NT itself, further evidence
for the practice of observing the first day of the week as "the
Lord's Day" may be found in the post-apostolic age. The following
quotes from the first two centuries are illuminating:
The Didache (ca. 90-100): "And on the Lord's Day of
the Lord come together and break bread and give thanks, having
first confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be
Ignatius of Antioch (died ca. 107): "If therefore those who
lived in ancient observances attained unto newness of hope, no
longer keeping the Sabbath, but living a life ruled by the Lord's
Day, whereon our life too had its rising through him and his death
..." (Epistle to the Magnesians 9:1).
Barnabas (ca. 125 to 135): "If, therefore, any one can now
sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure
in heart in all things, we are deceived ... Further he says to
them, 'Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure' (Isaiah
1:13). Ye perceive how he speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not
acceptable to me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,]
when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the
eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore,
also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on
which Jesus rose again from the dead" (Epistle of Barnabas,
Justin Martyr (died ca. 165): "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 [referring to day one of creation; Gen. 1:3-5];
and Jesus Christ our Savior 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 for your consideration"
(First Apology, ch. 67).
Carson, D. A., ed. From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical,
Historical, and Theological Investigation. Wipf and Stock,
1999. Originally published by Zondervan, 1982. Although the authors
argue that the Lord's Day is not a new covenant Sabbath, there
is much helpful material in this volume, including an exegetically
insightful article by Andrew Lincoln entitled, "Sabbath,
Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament."
Cullmann, Oscar. Early Christian Worship. SCM Press, 1953.
Argues convincingly that the Lord's Day was established by Christ
as a day of Christian worship by means of the post-resurrection
appearances. I am indebted to Cullmann's argument that the post-resurrection
appearances of Christ established the basic contours of the early
church's conception of the purpose and nature of the Lord's Day.
I also find attractive his exegesis of the Maranatha prayer, with
its wedding of the sacramental and eschatological perspectives.
Dennison, James T., Jr. The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan
Doctrine of the Sabbath in England (1532-1700). Soli Deo Gloria.
Examines the Puritan view in contrast with both Seventh-Day Sabbatarianism
and the Anglican position. Valuable resource for quotes and documentation
of the historical background of the Puritan doctrine of the Sabbath.
Gaffin, Richard B., Jr. "A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the
People of God." In Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating
Fifty Years of the OPC. Ed. by Charles G. Dennison and Richard
C. Gamble. Committee for the Historian of the OPC, 1986. Some
of the ideas presented in this paper are dependent on Gaffin's
formulations, e.g., the role of the Sabbath within the already/not-yet
eschatological framework; and the pilgrim motif in connection
with the wilderness experience of the covenant community between
the exodus and the promised land. However, I would argue that
Gaffin's wonderfully eschatological exposition of the Sabbath
raises questions about the traditional understanding of the nature
and role of the Decalogue as a summary of the eternal moral law
of God, questions that Gaffin does not appear to have sufficiently
__________. Calvin and the Sabbath: The Controversy of Applying
the Fourth Commandment. Mentor, 1998. Gaffin explains and
critiques Calvin's continental view, and offers his own eschatological
understanding in chapter 5 (this chapter also includes a valuable
excursus on Vos's eschatological conception of the Spirit).
Jewett, Paul K. The Lord's Day: A Theological Guide to the
Christian Day of Worship. Eerdmans, 1971. Similar position
as the D. A. Carson volume.
Kline, Meredith G. Kingdom Prologue. Two Age Press, 2000.
Muether, John. "The OPC and the Sabbath." Taped lecture
given in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the OPC (June,
1996). Write to Danny Olinger for a copy (firstname.lastname@example.org). Muether
sets the context by dealing with the American Victorian Sabbath,
and compares the views of Murray and Kline.
Murray, John. Principles of Conduct. Eerdmans, 1957.
OPC. "The Report of the Committee on Sabbath Matters"
Owen, John. "Concerning a Day of Sacred Rest." In vol.
2 of An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Banner
of Truth Trust, 1990. Owen helpfully traces the history of the
Sabbath in the various epochs of covenant history. His sensitivity
to the historical development of the Sabbath revelation enables
him to see more clearly than most Puritans the sharp differences
between the rigor of the old covenant Sabbath compared with the
relative freedom of the new covenant Sabbath.
Pipa, Joseph A. The Lord's Day. Christian Focus, 1997.
A defense of the traditional Puritan view.
Beckwith, Roger T., and Wilfrid Stott. This Is the Day: The
Biblical Doctrine of the Christian Sunday in its Jewish and Early
Christian Setting. Marshall, Morgan, and Scott, 1978. Very
helpful historical study of Sabbath theology in the church fathers.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Vol.
2, pp. 77-104. Turretin takes a via media between the strict Sabbatarians
of his day (the Voetians) and the Continental view (as represented
by the Cocceians).
 Kline, Kingdom Prologue (2000), p. 78.
 For more on how the works principle operated within Israel, without
compromising the unity of the covenant of grace, see Kingdom
Prologue, pp. 320-23.
 Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 141.
 The Maranatha prayer � "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20; 1 Cor. 16:22)
� is the oldest liturgical prayer of the early Christian church. It is "an
element which connects closely with the fact that the day of the Christian
service of worship is the day of Christ's resurrection. On this day Christ
appeared at a meal with the disciples. So now he ought to appear again, in
the Christian celebration of the Meal, since, 'where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them' (Matt. 18.20)
� The coming of Christ into the midst of the community gathered at the meal
is an anticipation of his coming to the Messianic meal and looks back to
the disciples' eating with the risen Christ on the Easter days." Oscar
Cullmann, Early Christian Worship, pp. 13-14, 16.
 "All church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy
Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church
judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of
its own authority" (OPC Form of Government III:3). "God alone is Lord of the
conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men,
which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of
faith, or worship" (WCF XX:2). The above statements are founded on the
teaching of Scripture concerning the ultimate authority of God's Word.
E.g., "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and
Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is
written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against
the other" (1 Cor. 4:6). See also the warnings against submitting to "the
commandments of men" (Matt. 15:1-8; Mark 7:8-9; Col. 2:8, 16-23; Titus 1:14).
 Summarizing the views of Nicolas Bownd, an early architect of the
Puritan Sabbath, James T. Dennison, Jr. writes: "The universal morality of
the Sabbath is indicated in its origin. As a creation ordinance, the Sabbath
commandment surpasses yet supplements the law of nature." The Market Day of
the Soul, p. 42 (emphasis added). Joseph A. Pipa argues, on the basis of
Gen. 2:2-3, that "the observation of one day out of seven is a perpetually
binding moral obligation based on this creation ordinance � a perpetually
binding creation ordinance." The Lord's Day, p. 34.
 See the discussion of the creation ordinances in John Murray, Principles
of Conduct. Note especially his assumption that the creation ordinances,
including the Sabbath, remain binding on mankind without substantial change
even after the fall (pp. 41-44).
 For the distinction between the holy and the common, see Kline,
Kingdom Prologue, pp. 155-60.
 "Significantly, when the Lord republished the cultural ordinances within
the historical framework of his common grace for the generality of fallen
mankind [Genesis 3:16-19; 9:1-17], he did not attach his Sabbath promise to
this common cultural order � The only culture on which the sabbatical sign
is explicitly impressed is the theocratic kingdom-culture of Israel under
the old covenant." Kline, Kingdom Prologue, pp. 155f.
 "The nature and unity of the decalogue (the Ten Commandments) teaches
that the Fourth Commandment is an expression of God's universal moral will
for all people. The Decalogue serves as a summary of God's moral law."
Pipa, The Lord's Day, p. 55.
 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out
of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). This self-identification of the
author of the Law, along with a reminder of the redemptive foundation for
the giving of the Law, corresponds to the "preamble" and "historical
prologue" sections of the ancient suzerain-vassal treaties, respectively.
See Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority.
 Kline writes: "It is tempting to see in the sabbath sign presented in
the midst of the ten words the equivalent of the suzerain's dynastic seal
found in the midst of the obverse of the international treaty documents.
Since in the case of the Decalogue the suzerain is Yahweh, there will be no
representation of him on his seal; but the sabbath is declared to be his
'sign of the covenant.'" The Structure of Biblical Authority, p. 120.
 Pipa writes: "Genesis 4:3 possibly refers to Sabbath worship when it says that at the end of days Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices. The 'end of days' is most likely the seventh day, the end of the week, the Sabbath day." The Lord's Day, p. 39. But since the reader of Genesis has already been introduced to the Sabbath concept in chapter two, the author certainly would have said that Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices "on the seventh day" (beyom hashebii) if that is what was intended. It is more likely, then, that "at the end of days" (meqets yamim) refers to the end of the agricultural year, when the firstfruits would have been brought. Cain brought the fruit of the ground, Abel the firstfruits of the flock. See Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), p. 103.
 Kingdom Prologue, p. 81.
 This view, common among members of the Moore Theological College
(Sidney) school of biblical theology, is defended by Peter O'Brien in
"The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity," in The Church in the
Bible and the World, ed. D. A. Carson (Paternoster, 1987).
 The Westminster Confession affirms that the visible church is expressed
not only in the local congregation but also in higher levels of
ecclesiastical organization. "The visible church � is also catholic or
universal under the gospel � And particular churches � are members thereof �"
(WCF XXV:2, 4).
 Kevin Giles, What On Earth is the Church? An Exploration in New
Testament Theology (IVP, 1996). Giles, also from Australia, presents cogent
exegetical arguments against the Moore school's approach to the ekklesia.
 My neologism "semi-theocratic" intentionally echoes the more well-known
"semi-eschatological," and so I am using it to mean "the theocratic kingdom
of Christ in its currently overlapping heavenly/earthly and already/not-yet
tension." By affirming the church's semi-theocratic status, I am in no way
intending to infuse a note of earthly triumphalism into the church's present
existence prior to the parousia. The church's mission remains one of
witness-bearing, weakness, and suffering with Christ. The theocratic
dimension is exclusively defined in terms of the church's existence in
the heavenlies with Christ � a dimension grasped only by faith.
Copyright © 2002
By Lee Irons
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