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The importance which the Jewish prophets attach to the observance of the Sabbath, and the connexion which they establish between this observance and the moral conduct as well as the prosperity of the people, are well worthy of our attention. They often complain of the neglect and profanation of this sacred day by the people, and administer the severest reproofs on this account; but it is remarkable that at the same time they also reprove them with equal severity for the general prevalence of idolatry, of injustice, of oppression, and extreme depravity of manners; insomuch that their prosperity invariably kept pace with their obedience to the will of God, and their obedience to the will of God with their observance of this divine institution.
Isaiah especially often laments in the strongest language the increase of iniquity in his time, and when complaining of their hypocrisy, particularly exhorts them to return without delay to a serious and proper attention to the Sabbath, as that on which their prosperity and the blessing of God most certainly depended. Isaiah lviii. 13: "If thou wilt turn thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words, then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to rideupon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob, thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." The gloomy seer who succeeded the evangelical prophet, appears to have had abundant reason for the stern invectives and highly pathetic lamentations with which he so constantly and forcibly reproves the overwhelming depravity of the times in which he lived; lamentations that form the most beautiful specimens of Hebrew, or indeed of any poetry extant; and from Jeremiah we learn, (xvii. 21, &c.,) that the neglect of the Sabbath was in exact proportion to the general prevalence of irreligion and the most abominable iniquity. The prophet Ezekiel also complains, with even greater energy, if possible, of the neglect of the Sabbath in his days, and attributes to this cause chiefly the severe calamities with which the people were then visited. (Ch. xx. 12, 20.) And in the prophecy of Amos the like subjects of invective and complaint may be found (viii. 4, 5). Thus, then, it is
evident, that though the Sabbath was observed by the Jews with great solemnity in the best periods of their history, when their prosperity and obedience to the commands of God kept pace with each other, in seasons of depravity and vice they became equally remiss in their attention to it; till at length they were utterly deprived of Divine protection and support, and were driven into captivity, after the most solemn and repeated, but ineffectual, warnings of what would be the inevitable result of their inveterate and obstinate rebellion against the only Power that could save them. "These things were written for our admonition;" and is there in them no lesson of importance, no warning to Christians deserving their seri, ous attention? The observance of the Sabbath, and the good conduct as well as prosperity of this people, it is evident, were inseparable; and we may be allowed to ask, if this institution were thus necessary to the Israelites, what good reason can be given why it should be considered as of little importance to us? Men are essentially the same in all ages, and require similar methods of moral cultivation. These considerations, surely, ought at least to make us pause before we attempt to convince mankind that there is now no authority for devoting one day in seven to moral and religious improvement.
During the captivity of the Jews under the Assyrians and Chaldeans, the various rites of their religion were suspended, and the Sabbath, of course, ceased to be ob served with the same strictness and solemnity to which they had been accustomed. But on their return to their own country, after considerable obstruction by too many of the nobles of Israel and their merchants, under the influence of habits acquired during their exile, the religious observance of the day was completely restored, (Nehem. x. 30,) and from that time, as the people no more returned to idolatrous practices, this most important and salutary custom seems to have maintained its ground without interruption. In the days of our Lord, at least, the observance of it was accompanied with its ancient rigour and with even additional superstition, for they sought to stone him because he had healed the sick on that day.
Such is the history of the Sabbath from the Hebrew Scriptures, and however tedious these details may have seemed, I am mistaken if the following important proposi tions have not been established by them; first, the origi.
nal institution of the Sabbath was altogether independent of the Mosaic law; secondly, when Moses adopted it into his ritual he confirmed, on Divine authority, this original and independent institution; thirdly, the observance of the Sabbath was intended to accompany the worship of the one living and true God at all times; and lastly, the good conduct and prosperity of the Israelites kept pace with their observance of the Sabbath, whereby an important lesson is afforded to all nations.
As to the objection, noticed by Milton, that the command to observe it was given only to the Jews, this, in fact, amounts to nothing; for the same objection applies with equal force to the commands, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;' "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image" as an object of worship; "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," &c., because these commands were given to the Israelites only. The fact is, the Hebrews were the only people that observed the Sabbath, because the rest of the world were idolaters, and they only enjoyed the benefit of Divine reve lation. The Sabbath was connected with the worship of the sole Creator, but that worship was then confined to the Jews; and when the knowledge and the privileges of true religion were extended to all mankind by the introduction of the Christian dispensation, the observance of the Sabbath accompanied its progress universally, which would scarcely have happened had there been any thing in that dispensation inimical to this institution. Whether this be the case or not will be seen by consulting what occurs on the subject in the New Testament. The length, however, of the preceding discussion has been so much extended that what remains to be examined must be treated as briefly as possible.
And in the first place it will be admitted, that the authority of our Lord himself is the most important and decisive; and he at least has no where abolished the Sabbath. No passage can be produced in which he forbade his followers to observe it. The law for its observance, therefore, as far as he is concerned, remains unrepealed.
Secondly, our Lord's example is decisively in favour of the Sabbath. We learn from various passages in the gospels, that he was in the habit of attending the usual services of the Jews, in their synagogues, on this day. Luke iv. 16, vi. 6, xiii. 10: "At Nazareth, where he was brought
up, as his custom was, he entered into the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read," a sufficient proof that it was his practice to join regularly in the public religious duties of these places of worship on this day. It has been maintained, it is true, that Jesus observed all the rites, and obeyed all the precepts of the Mosaic law, because that law was not in his time abolished; but as it is now no longer binding upon Christians, his conduct, in this in stance, is no example to us. This objection, however, happens to be totally inapplicable here; for it has been shewn, and, as I think, clearly, that the institution of the Sabbath was altogether independent of the law of Moses, and as it existed before that law was given from Sinai, it was not intended to perish with it. Being required, 'therefore, if we would be the disciples of Christ, to follow his example, it is our duty, like him, to observe the Sabbath.
In the third place, there are several passages in the gospels, from which, in addition to his own conduct, our Lord's approbation of the Sabbath may be fairly inferred. (Matt. xii. 1-13.) When the Pharisees expressed great indignation because the disciples of Jesus had plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath to satisfy their hunger, as a breach of the law, in his reply does he say any thing that had a tendency to exonerate his disciples from all obligation to observe the day? Certainly not, though this was a very suitable opportunity for that purpose, had he thought this proper, especially as he observed, on this occasion, "The Son of Man" (meaning himself certainly, for such was the appellation by which he usually distinguished himself) "is Lord of the Sabbath." He defended what his disciples had done merely on the ground of necessity, referring to the examples of David and their priests; and immediately passing on, he went into their synagogue, as his custom was, to attend the common religious services of the day, taking this opportunity to shew, by his example, how much he approved of this method of employing it. On this occasion also he healed a man that had a withered hand, but defended this deed of benevolence against the censures of his opponents merely by asking, "What man is there of you, who shall have one sheep, and it shall fall into a pit on the Sabbath-day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?" Aud his inference is most reasonable and just: "Wherefore it is lawful to do good," that is,
"to relieve the distressed on the Sabbath-day." His defence on both these occasions, so far from impairing the obligation to observe the Sabbath, implies his approbation of it, and serves to confirm it. On two other occasions of a similar kind, after performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath, he vindicates what he had done on the same ground alone. Is it true, then, that our Lord defended the performance of works of necessity and mercy only on this day, at the same time that he recommended the religious observance of it by his example ? What are we to infer, but that he thought other works indefensible, and that he intended that his followers should observe it in the same manner? On the first of the occasions just mentioned, according to Mark ii. 27, our Lord observed, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." And who will dispute the position that the Sabbath was instituted for the benefit of mankind at large? Or who again will call in question the fact, that the religious improvement of the Sabbath is conducive to that benefit? And was Jesus Lord of the Sabbath? Why then did he not - prohibit the observance of it if he did not think it beneficial? He did think so, and therefore his prohibition of it is withheld.
There is one passage, however, in which our Lord has given confirmation, as it appears to me at least, to the authority of the Ten Commandments, and, consequently, to the fourth among the rest, as binding upon all men. When a person, who had great possessions, (Matt. xix. 16,) came to him and said, "What good thing shall I do that I may have everlasting life?" he replies, "Keep the commandments; Thou shalt do no murder; Thou shalt not commit adultery," &c. It is true our Lord has quoted only five of these commandments; but if we say, that it is evident he intended to teach that obedience to these only is essential, then it follows, that "Thou shalt have no other gods but me; Make no graven images; Take not the name of the Lord thy God in vain; Thou shalt not steal; Honour thy father and mother," are not binding any more than "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy." It is perfectly clear, however, that when our Lord enjoins, as the condition of obtaining everlasting life, Keep the commandments," and quotes a part of them in order that there might be no mistake as to what he refer