The Lord’s Day and the Sabbath

H. Nunnerley

Legality converts the Lord’s Day into a Sabbath; Lawlessness rejects the day as being the Lord’s, and uses it to gratify self. It is not a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath, nor is it a day to indulge in license for the flesh, but one in which we are called to walk in the liberty of the Spirit. Judaizing Christianity attaches to the Lord’s Day prohibitions which solely belong to the Mosaic economy, and legal minds are thus held in bondage. Let all such remember that the Sabbath is another word for rest, and involves cessation from every kind of labour. Inaugurated at the Creation, after six days’ labour God rested. But this first Sabbath was disturbed by sin, for God cannot rest where sin is, nor find repose where misery and death reign. After this twenty-five centuries ran their course, but no mention is made in Scripture of a day of rest. Ingenious theories have been built on the mention of seven days being connected with the Ark of Noah, but no formal declaration of God’s mind was made until Israel was brought into covenant relationship with God. Then the Sabbath was instituted, and became an integral part of the Jewish system. It is mentioned one hundred and seventy times, and is especially linked with the giving of the law (Ex. 20:8), the setting up of the Tabernacle (Ex. 35:2), and as a memorial of deliverance from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). Strict injunctions are given as to its sanctity, and severe penalties were attached to its desecration. Alas! warnings and penalties were disregarded; the Sabbaths were profaned, their sanctity invaded, their rest violated, until the last links with Israel were snapped when the Lord of the Sabbath lay in the grave on a Sabbath Day (Luke 23:52-55). His death ended all relationship with men in the flesh, and at the same time the Law and the Sabbath as a system adapted to such. The whole Jewish economy came to an end. Christians belong to a new creation, and are identified with Christ risen from the dead. They are connected with a heavenly sanctuary. The Spirit of God came at Pentecost to form a company of spiritual worshippers. The Sabbath finds no place in the present ways of God with His people. Yet some Christians maintain that the Lord’s Day of the new economy is a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath. Is this so?

In vain we search the New Testament for the re-enactment of this ordinance; there is no command to observe the Sabbath, in its pages; nor is there any threat for its desecration. The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are totally different. They have many contrasts.

The Sabbath ends the week; the Lord’s Day begins it.

Sacred rest marks the one; holy activity the other.

Legal prohibitions burden the one; spiritual privileges characterize the other.

Death is connected with one; resurrection with the other.

During the Sabbath the Saviour lay in death; on the Lord’s Day He rose. The Holy Ghost also came on a Lord’s Day, and it is significant that the only time it is mentioned the Spirit is connected with the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).

We learn, from what was done by the early disciples, that it is a day to be devoted wholly to spiritual worship and work. On this day the disciples assembled to break bread, and laid their contributions aside; on it Paul preached, and John saw the Apocalyptic visions. As to labour, our great Exemplar is the Lord; how unceasingly He toiled on that first Lord’s Day. Think of His gracious service to Mary. Ere day dawned she was found at the sepulchre. There she stands, sorrowful and disconsolate, the sombre night outside faintly picturing the dark forebodings inside, when suddenly the eastern sun arose and dispelled the darkness. And as suddenly the light of a resurrection day dawned on her astonished vision, for before her eyes was Jesus risen. How He comforted and consoled her, and entrusted her to convey the most marvellous message human ears had ever heard: “I ascend unto My Father and your Father.”

Next we find Him going to meet others less disconsolate perhaps, but truly attached to Him. They also bear a message to “His own.” Then erring, straying Peter is sought. Picture the meeting of the Shepherd and the wandering sheep! And, again, on the rugged Emmaus road, reproving, comforting, and instructing these disappointed disciples, until made known in the familiar act of blessing, their restoration is complete, and they retrace their steps. Although eight miles away, they testify to their recovery by their return to the assembled disciples.

Again found among their own company, Jesus appears (closed doors are no barrier to Him). There He establishes and strengthens, fits and qualifies them to be His witnesses and messengers. From early morn until the shades of night our risen Lord—on the first Lord’s day—is found in a constant round of unceasing service. Our Master’s gracious activities are our warrant for working and not resting on that day.

Were it the Sabbath, no journey could be taken beyond a prescribed distance; no fire lighted; no food cooked; not a stick gathered. There must be absolute cessation from every kind of labour. One company alone were excepted. Aaron’s sons offered the lamb; changed the showbread; trimmed the lamps; and placed the wood on the altar of burnt offering, the fire of which was never to go out. Spiritual worship and priestly activities occupied the hours of the day.

Just so, all service now should be as connected with the sanctuary—a priestly privilege, not a legal enactment. Christian labour should be the holy, happy outcome of hearts in the enjoyment of God’s love, a spontaneous act. Having gathered to show forth the death of our Lord, setting Him ever first and foremost, in the enjoyment flowing from His holy presence, our glad hearts go forth into the world out of which He has been cast, to make known the love and grace which has reached us. So long as sinners need saving, backsliders restoring, and saints comforting, we may travel any distance, toil unceasingly, labour unremittingly, work continuously.

Not of compulsion, but of a ready mind, not because it is a matter of bondage, but as a happy privilege, in the liberty, energy, and power of the Holy Spirit.

No right-minded Christian will think lightly of its privileges or evade its responsibilities. Those who spend its hours in selfish ease, social gatherings, or what are termed “innocent pleasures,” deny the claims of their Lord, and grieve the Holy Spirit. If freed from the ordinary avocations of everyday life, it is that every moment of the day may be used in a special and peculiar way, as an opportunity to serve in some way or other. We are to yield ourselves unreservedly to our Lord and Master, and respond to the supremacy of His claims.

We may travel a hundred miles to please our Master, we must not travel a hundred yards to please ourselves. Let us test our motives, they are the true tests, not merely our acts. Self last, Christ first, will keep our actions right. We trust a close study of the difference between the Sabbath and the Lord’s day will enable every Christian to see that the Sabbath has to do with a rest day, whilst the Lord’s day derives all its importance from a Person who claims us for worship and service. It is not only John, but equally the privilege of each and all of us to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. If we are, we shall be preserved from legal bondage on the one hand, and self-gratification on the other,           

H.Nunnerley

Words of Grace and Encouragement 1910