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satisfactory answer is indispensable, before we proceed to the subsequent inquiry, "How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?" that we may be properly assured in our own minds, whether, in keeping sacred the first day of the week, we are really doing the will of God, or whether we are performing an act of mere will-worship, and, without the sanction of his authority, retaining a part of the yoke of bondage, the burdensome ritual of an abolished dispensation.
When I ask the question, Was the Sabbath a merely Jewish Institution, or was it a moral duty of universal and permanent obligation ?-some of my hearers may naturally enough be startled at the inquiry, and think it a very strange one. "A merely Jewish Institution!" they will say-" how can that be? who can possibly entertain such a fancy, when, in the words which you have just read as the ground of your discourse, we have so simple and explicit a statement of the day having been divinely set apart at the time of the creation of the world ?" For the surprise which might thus be expressed, there exists, in my judgment, very good reason. The conclusion drawn from the language of the text-(if that may be called a conclusion from it, which is rather its direct and explicit declaration) is the conclusion, not of ignorance or inconsideration, but, in spite of the high authority I am about to cite to the contrary, that of sound understanding and common sense. To those of my hearers in whose minds the text has appeared, as well it might, decisive of the question, it is necessary to mention, that in the opinion of some writers, later and more remote, and especially of one scripture moralist, whose judgment is, in many respects, entitled to
deference, the seventh day was not set apart for sacred observance at the time of the creation;-that there was no such divine institute till the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, two thousand five hundred years afterwards; and that the historian, himself an Israelite, in giving the inspired account of the creation, takes notice of the Sabbath only incidentally and by anticipation, that account, with which the institution was subsequently associated, having naturally enough suggested it to his mind! -This is the opinion of the justly celebrated Dr. Paley.* "As the seventh day," says he, "was erected into a sabbath on account of God's resting upon that day from the work of creation; it was natural enough in the historian, when he had related the history of the creation and of God's ceasing from it on the seventh day, to add, ‹ And God blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it, because that on it he had rested from all his work which the Lord God created and made,'-although the blessing and sanctification, i. e. the religious distinction and appropriation of the day, was not actually made for many ages afterwards. The words do not assert that God then blessed and sanctified the seventh day, but that he blessed and sanctified it for that reason: and if any ask why the Sabbath or sanctification of the seventh day was then mentioned, if it was not then appointed, the answer is at hand; the order of connexion, not of time, introduced the men
* I select Dr. Paley, not only on account of his deserved eminence as a writer, in the theological and moral literature of our country, but because, on this as on other subjects, he brings his argument into short compass, and states it with brevity and precision.-Whether he convinces you or not, he never leaves you at a loss to understand him.
tion of the Sabbath in the history of the subject which it was ordained to commemorate."*
Here, then, is the point to the settlement of which our attention must, in the first instance, be directed;—namely, whether or not the seventh day was actually set apart as a day of religious rest at the time when it is first mentioned, in immediate connexion with the finishing of the work of creation. This, according to Dr. Paley's own admission, is the turning point of the controversy respecting the universality and perpetuity of the obligation. It is fully granted by this eminent writer, that if the Sabbath was instituted immediately after the creation, it must be regarded as a command given to the progenitors of our race, and so obligatory on all the race alike, in all succeeding generations. "If the divine command" (such are the terms of his admission)" was actually delivered at the creation, it was addressed, no doubt, to the whole human species alike, and continues, unless repealed by some subsequent revelation, binding upon all who come to the knowledge of it. If the command was published for the first time in the wilderness, then it was directed to the Jewish people alone; and something farther, either in the subject or circumstances of the command, will be necessary to show that it was designed for any other." "The former opinion precludes all debate about the extent of the obligation: the latter admits, and, prima facie, induces a belief, that the sabbath ought to be considered as part of the peculiar law of the Jewish policy."
* Paley's Moral and Political l'hilosophy, Sect. on Sabbatical Institutions.
It is comfortable, when a controversy is thus brought to a point, of which the determination is admitted to leave no room for further discussion; when the ground is thus narrowed, and the consequence of satisfactory proof acknowledged to be sure. And I have said thus much, to show you, that the point we are about to consider is of essential importance to our coming to a just conclusion on the great general question.
Look again, then, in the first place, to the terms of our text,-the passage which contains the first mention of the Sabbath :-" Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it ; `because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made."
There is at present no dispute about the meaning of the words used by the historian. It is, on both sides, admitted, that by the seventh day being "sanctified," is meant its being set apart to religious purposes, as sacred or holy; the same sense in which the word is often used afterwards, in the writings of Moses, in application to things and seasons, as well as to persons. The sole question is, whether the day was thus set apart at that time. I am most thoroughly convinced that it was, and astonished that to any mind it should ever have appeared otherwise; and I am now to state the grounds of this conviction. Amongst these, I cannot but notice,
1. In the first place, the plain and simple language of the passage itself. I need not read it again. Only bear in
mind, that it is the continuation of a narrative. You have no business with its being the beginning of a chapter. It should be read as if there were no interruption. In the preceding part of the narrative, you find the record of the transactions of each in succession of the six days of creation; and here, in the very same simple historical style, you have the account of the seventh, completing the narrative of the first week :—and, perhaps, the second chapter might have begun, with greater propriety, at the fourth verse, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, in the day when they were created," &c. What the historian says of the seventh day, he relates as done at the time, with the same simplicity with which he relates the transactions of each of the preceding days, as done at the. time. So far as the mere terms of the record are concerned, (and it is of these alone we now speak,) there is just as much reason for considering the creation itself, as narrated by anticipation, and as not having taken place till 2,500 years afterwards, as there is for conceiving this to have been the case in regard to the institution of the day for its commemoration. The resting of Jehovah on that day, and the blessing and sanctifying of that day, are alike related as having then taken place: there being no hint, and no change of construction, indicative, in the remotest degree, of its being a mere allusion to what had no existence till five and twenty centuries had passed away, and then only in one nation, and for a limited time, as one of the institutes of a temporary ceremo→ nial. If it be so, I am at a loss to know on what principles historical language is to be interpreted.
2. I would argue, secondly, from the nature of the thing.