A Practical Talk about Sabbath-keeping

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Present Truth : November 18, 1897

There are two items in regard to the Sabbath that we should first notice before we take up the closing portion of the fourth chapter of Hebrews. The first is the objection that so many, especially poor people who labor for their daily bread, make to the keeping of the Sabbath, namely,—

“I couldn’t live if I kept the Sabbath”

That the seventh day is the Sabbath, and that the Lord has given it to men to keep, is admitted, but against all this is the frightful thought, “I couldn’t make a living and keep the seventh day; I should certainly lose my situation.”

As to losing the situation, that is quite possible, and yet not as absolutely certain as many suppose. God would have His witnesses everywhere, and in every legitimate calling, and therefore He is able to give His faithful children favor with the people, if He sees that their witness can be of use in any place. People who begin to keep the Sabbath often lose their situations, because they expect it, and plan for it. Some on becoming Christians seem to think it is necessary to leave unbelieving employers and get among those who have the same faith, forgetting that a light is needed only where there is darkness. The man, who cannot live the truth when surrounded by darkness and unbelief, cannot live it anywhere. A candle that will not burn except in the stove is good for nothing except to throw into the fire. Of course it is understood that the individual must be where God wishes him to be; but if a person accepts the truth while in service among unbelievers, he should take it as God’s will that he is to stay there until God makes it plain to him that he should leave. “Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.” 1 Corinthians 7.20-22

The Lord gave Joseph and Daniel, and Nehemiah, and “they of Cesar’s household” so much favor with worldly men that they kept important situations while faithfully living the truth of Christ. On the other hand, Abraham had to leave his father’s house, and Moses lost one of the best situations that the world ever had to offer any man, and neither of them were ever sorry for it. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” 2 Chronicles 16.9. He has always been able to take care of His people. “When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people, He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, He reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.” Psalm 105.13-15. The same God lives today.

The Laboring Man’s Friend

But, as a matter of fact, the Sabbath is the laboring man’s friend. It comes to him, laden with God’s richest blessings, and brings him perfect rest from all weariness and oppression. All the hopes and aims of Socialists of the best class, and of the most disinterested philanthropists, fall infinitely short of the blessed realities that the Sabbath of the Lord opens before those who accept it. The plans and efforts of the best of social reformers (outside, of course, of those who use Gospel methods only), have not materially if at all lessened the amount of poverty and suffering, but have resulted simply in arousing and aug­menting discontent. The Sabbath of the Lord, on the other hand, makes known to men the power that will enable them patiently and contentedly to endure that which for a season must be borne, and gives them the certainty of the speedy removal of all ills.

The Sabbath keeps ever before our minds the wondrous power manifested in creation, that power by which all who believe are saved from sin, and by which all men, whether they believe or not, are kept alive from day to day and from one moment to another. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17.28. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” Lamentations 3.22, 23. The Sabbath, which makes known God as Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer (Ezekiel 20.12), teaches confidence in Him, for whoever becomes acquainted with God trusts Him. Psalm 9.10. Therefore the Sabbath takes from the poor man the heavy load of care and anxiety that he has borne so long, by introducing him to the Almighty Father, “in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12.10. It is only when a man does not know the Sabbath and its Lord, that he says, “I couldn’t live if I served Him.” The one who knows the Lord will rather say, “I cannot live without Him.”

Think a moment of the incongruity of the statement by a professed Christian that he couldn’t live if he kept the Sabbath of the Lord; that he wouldn’t dare take the risk. But if he dare not trust the Lord for the life that now is, how dare he trust Him for the life to come? If the Lord cannot keep us alive for a few short years, what possible hope is there of eternal life? “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” “Your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6.32, 33

Sunday, the Sign of Justification by Works

We see that the Sabbath is the great and final test of faith in God, and is therefore the seal of righteousness; for “the just shall live by faith,” and “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Romans 1.17; 14.23. It is the exact opposite of the Sunday, which is the badge of a system of religion that consists in justification by works. Let it be understood that it is not asserted that all those who observe the Sunday depend on works for justification. Far from it. The writer knows many by personal acquaintance, and is fully persuaded that there are many thousands more, who keep Sunday instead of the Sabbath, thinking it to be the Sabbath, and who nevertheless are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in His merits alone for their salvation. We say “nevertheless,” for their trust in the Lord Jesus is in spite of their observance of Sunday, having by no means any connection with it, except to be hindered by it; for if they could but see the Sabbath as it is in Jesus, they would find a “joy and peace in believing” such as they never had before.

Now for the proof that the Sunday stands only for “another gospel” than that of the Lord Jesus, a gospel which consists in exalting the creature above the Creator. We have already seen that the Sabbath—God’s rest—is the assurance that God’s work is perfect and complete, and the acceptance of it in Spirit and in truth, is the ceasing of our own works and the resting in the finished work of God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. God worked, and then rested in the enjoyment of His perfect work; we, having wearied ourselves with our imperfect work, obey His call, and, leaving our works, rest in His.

“In six days the Lord made heaven and earth; the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” Exodus 20.11. A fact is a thing done, the fact remains for ever, since it can never cease to be a fact that it has been done. It is a fact that God rested on the seventh day, and that fact will remain throughout eternity. In order, therefore, for the Sabbath to be “changed,” from the seventh day to some other day it would have to cease to be a fact that God rested on the seventh day; but that is impossible; so it is impossible for the Sabbath to be changed,—as impossible as for it to cease to be a fact that God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested the seventh day.

It is possible that another than the seventh day might have been made the Sabbath day, if God had so ordered it. In that case, however, the week would not have consisted of seven days, as now. Thus: God doubtless could have created all things in five days, and rested the sixth, making a week of six days; or He might have finished the work in four days, and rested the fifth; or He could have completed the work of creation in three days, and rested the fourth; or in two days, resting the third; or, since there is no limit to the power of God, He might have completed the work of creation in one day, and rested the second, making the week consist of but two days, and giving man a Sabbath every second day. God did not do any of these things: we only say that He might have done so if it had seemed good to Him; but one thing He could not possibly have done, and that is, to have created all things in one day, and at the same time rest on that day from all His works. That is to say, the first day of the week is the one day of the week which could not by any possibility be made the Sabbath of the Lord. But the first day of the week has been set apart by man as the Sabbath.

Thus, Dr. Isaac Williams, in “Plain Sermons on the Catechism” (Longmans, Green, & Co.), says:—

The reason why we keep the first day of the week holy instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the Church, has enjoined it.

“The Church,” therefore, in attempting to make a sabbath day, which God could not use as the sabbath, shows itself to be that power “who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped.” 2 Thessalonians 2.4

Scores of testimonials from doctors of divinity and learned men who themselves observe and teach others to observe Sunday, might be cited to show that the observance of Sunday rests on no Divine authority whatever, but is only an ordinance of men. The religion, therefore, of which it stands as the sign, and, as many of its advocates say, even the foundation, is a religion that rests on human works and human inventions, instead of the works and words of the Lord. To make Sunday the Sabbath, the facts and record of creation, must be ignored, and with these go the basis of the Gospel, since redemption is creation. Therefore we repeat that while the Sabbath of the Lord teaches redemption through trust in the finished work of God in Christ, the Sunday teaches redemption through man’s own imperfect work.

In so saying, we refer to the institution, and not to any man. As before stated, there are thousands of men and women who are strict observers of Sunday, supposing it to be the Sabbath, who are nevertheless depending on Christ for salvation, so far as they know Him. May God grant that they may soon see Him, as the Alpha, and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One in whom all things were created, and in whom all things consist, who redeems by no other word than that by which He in the beginning made the worlds. Reader, which will you choose; your own incomplete and imperfect works and unrest, or God’s complete and perfect work and His everlasting rest? He calls, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest.” Now is the time to choose; “today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”