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New Horizons

April, 2009: The Sabbath

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The Sabbath: Plausibility for Presbyterian Pilgrims

Living in an age of Sabbath indifference, we may be surprised to learn how nearly universal was the Sabbatarianism of nineteenth-century American Protestantism. The sanctity of the Lord's Day was high on the agenda of nineteenth-century evangelical social reform.

For Presbyterians in particular, a protracted war was carried on to preserve the Sabbath. From the beginning to the end of the century, Sabbath desecration was always highlighted on any list of the vices that were threatening the moral fabric of the country. Special concern was voiced over social changes wrought by technological progress and the rise of mass culture. New modes of transportation brought weekend resorts like Atlantic City within the convenient reach of city residents. The Sunday newspaper dropped an alternative to public worship on the doorstep of millions. By the end of the century, professional baseball had begun to be played on Sunday. Equally troubling was the infidelity and irreligion of the expanding Western frontier. Presbyterian missionaries to the Missouri frontier called the land west of the Mississippi "the land beyond the Sabbath." Read more

The Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance

From the time of the Reformation until the middle of the twentieth century, the great majority of Protestants held fairly strict views regarding the use of Sunday. With the encroachments of liberalism, the rise of dispensationalism, and the ubiquitous presence of television, Sabbatarian practice has so declined that today only a small minority of Christians in the West hold to it. Most Christians today argue that Sunday is a day of worship, but that the Christian is not obligated to observe it according to the fourth commandment. Who is correct? Does the Bible require us to observe one day in seven, or are all days equal? Is Sunday to be observed according to the fourth commandment, or are we free to spend the day as we please, so long as we worship?

My thesis is that we should restore the Sabbath to its purpose and uses as described in the Westminster Standards (CF, 21; LC, 115-21; SC, 57-62). The exegetical and theological basis of this position is the institution of the Sabbath in Genesis 2:1-3. God instituted the Sabbath, along with work (Gen. 1:28; 2:15) and marriage (Gen. 2:18-25), to govern the lives of all mankind. Just as the ordinances of work and marriage are permanent, so is the ordinance of the Sabbath. Read more

The Age of Jubilee: A Redemptive-Historical Case for the Christian Sabbath

Those on the left say that meeting for worship on Sunday is just a custom that has no necessary relation to the fourth commandment. Those on the right say that the church must still observe Saturday. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church takes a moderate position, insisting that we must observe Sunday. We defend both the moral necessity of observance (against the left) and the change of day (against the right).

My present concern is with the latter issue: the change of day. I will sketch the Westminster divines' main lines of argumentation (not exhaustively) in their seventeenth-century context. Then I will present a redemptive-historical argument for Westminster's position, based on the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament. Read more

Limited Atonement

Dear James,

It was good to catch a glimpse of you during my recent visit to what many older members of the alumni association are fond of calling the Rutherford Country Club (referring to the astonishing campus upgrades). The meal we enjoyed in the cafeteria was nothing like anything I was ever served. The new gymnasium is spectacular, though I miss the rustic charm of the old field house. Read more

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