James Henley Thornwell

The “Charles Hodge of the South” (or better yet Charles Hodge was the J.H. Thornwell of the North) was the Dean of Southern Presbyterianism during the early-to-mid 1800’s. His writings are unfortunately much neglected in our day as Southern Presbyterianism itself has been purposefully and systematically expunged from seminary and church instruction. While he most assuredly has been apologized to death for being a “man of his time” in regards to his views on slavery et al I do not wish to spend time excusing and deliberating on his antiquarian views on certain subjects. What I do intend to do is spend a week or so giving you a taste of his brilliant theological mind. It is my hope that just as R.L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology has found its way back into print (find it here) that someone will take the effort to re-publish Dr. Thornwell’s 4-Volume Collected Writings as well as Benjamin Morgan Palmer’s Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell.(Google Books here)

Here is his short Wikipedia entry.

Just Back From Kentucky

I have been away for the last week attending my wife’s best friend’s wedding in Lebanon, KY. Thankfully I had no internet access during this time so was able to stay away from the shenanigans of the PC(USA) Reichsparteitage General Assembly Also during that trip I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Tim Phillips of Gairney Bridge and Chris Larimer of Adiaphora at a really good breakfast place in Louisville called the Shady Lane Cafe.

Some time today I’ll post the long awaited finale to the Images of the Godhead series. It will be Post 8. Tomorrow I’ll be posting again on Limited Atonement (no matter how many people call it “Definite Atonement” or “Particular Redemption” I’ll still call it Limited Atonement). On Wednesday will be the third post in looking at the Abandonment of Hermeneutics.

This weekend I am going with my Dad to the 145th Anniversary Re-Enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg and will be leaving Thursday to set up all our gear. I am hoping we win this time…

R.L. Dabney on Musical Instruments in Worship

Girardeau’s “Instrumental Music in Public Worship.”
A Review
by
Robert L. Dabney.


Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church. By John L. Girardeau, D.D., LL. D., Professor in Columbia Theological Seminary, South Carolina, 12mo, pp. 208. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson. 1888.


The author in his eloquent conclusion anticipates that some will meet his arguments with sneers rather than serious discussion, which he proposes to endure with Christian composure. It is a reproach to our church, which fills us with grief, to find the prediction fulfilled in some quarters. Surely persons calling themselves Presbyterians should remember that the truths they profess to hold sacred have usually been in small minorities sneered at by the arrogant majorities. So it was in the days of the Reformers, of Athanasius, of the Apostles, and of Jesus himself.

The resort to this species of reply appears the more ill-considered, when we remember that Dr. Girardeau is supporting the identical position held by all the early fathers, by all the Presbyterian reformers, by a Chalmers, a Mason, a Breckinridge, a Thornwell, and by a Spurgeon. Why is not the position as respectable in our author as in all this noble galaxy of true Presbyterians? Will the innovators claim that all these great men are so inferior to themselves? The idea seems to be that the opposition of all these great men to organs arose simply out of their ignorant old-fogyism and lack of culture; while our advocacy of the change is the result of our superior intelligence, learning and refinement. The ignorance of this overweening conceit makes it simply vulgar. These great men surpassed all who have succeeded them in elegant classical scholarship, in logical ability, and in theological learning. Their depreciators should know that they surpassed them just as far in all elegant culture. The era of the Reformation was the Augustan age of church art in architecture, painting and music. These reformed divines were graduates of the first Universities, most of them gentlemen by birth, many of them noblemen, denizens of courts, of elegant accomplishments and manners, not a few of them exquisite poets and musicians. But they unanimously rejected the Popish Church music; not because they were fusty old pedants without taste, but because a refined taste concurred with their learning and logic to condemn it.

Dr. Girardeau has defended the old usage of our church with a moral courage, loyalty to truth, clearness of reasoning and wealth of learning which should make every true Presbyterian proud of him, whether he adopts his conclusions or not. The framework of his argument is this: it begins with that vital truth which no Presbyterian can discard without a square desertion of our principles. The man who contests this first premise had better set out at once for Rome: God is to be worshipped only in the ways appointed in his word. Every act of public cultus not positively enjoined by him is thereby forbidden. Christ and his apostles ordained the musical worship of the New Dispensation without any sort of musical instrument, enjoining only the singing with the voice of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Hence such instruments are excluded from Christian worship. Such has been the creed of all churches, and in all ages, except of the Popish communion after it had reached the nadir of its corruption at the end of the thirteenth century, and of its prelatic imitators. But the pretext is raised that instrumental music was authorized by Scripture in the Old Testament. This evasion Dr. Girardeau ruins by showing that God set up in the Hebrew Church two distinct forms of worship; the one moral, didactic, spiritual and universal, and therefore perpetual in all places and ages—that of the synagogues; the other peculiar, local, typical, foreshadowing in outward forms the more spiritual dispensation, and therefore destined to be utterly abrogate by Christ’s coming. Now we find instrumental music, like human priests and their vestments, show-bread, incense, and bloody sacrifice, absolutely limited to this local and temporary worship. But the Christian churches were modelled upon the synagogues and inherited their form of government and worship because it was permanently didactic, moral and spiritual, and included nothing typical. This reply is impregnably fortified by the word of God himself: that when the Antitype has come the types must be abolished. For as the temple-priests and animal sacrifices typified Christ and his sacrifice on Calvary, so the musical instruments of David in the temple-service only typified the joy of the Holy Ghost in his pentecostal effusions.

Hence when the advocates of innovation quote such words as those of the Psalmist, “Praise the Lord with the harp,” &c., these shallow reasoners are reminded that the same sort of plea would draw back human priest and bloody sacrifices into our Christian churches. For these Psalms exclaim, with the same emphasis, “Bind our sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Why do not our Christian aesthetics feel equally authorized and bound to build altars in front of their pulpits, and to drag the struggling lambs up their nicely carpeted aisles, and have their throats cut there for the edification of the refined audience? “Oh, the sacrifices, being types and peculiar to the temple service, were necessarily abolished by the coming of the Antitype.” Very good. So were the horns, cymbals, harps and organs only peculiar to the temple-service, a part of its types, and so necessarily abolished when the temple was removed.

If any addition can be made to this perfectly compact argument, it is contained in this suggestion of an undoubted historical truth: that the temple-worship had a national theocratic quality about it, which cannot now be realized in Christ’s purely spiritual kingdom. Israel was both a commonwealth and a church. Her political government was a theocracy. Her human king was the viceroy representing on earth her true sovereign, God. hence, in the special acts of worship in the temple, in which the high priest, Messiah’s type, and the king, God’s viceroy, combined, they represented the State Church, the collective nation in a national act of homage. This species of worship could not lawfully exist except at one place; only one set of officials could celebrate it. It was representatively the nation’s act. It is to be noted that , when at last musical instruments were attached to those national acts of homage to Israel’s political king, Jehovah, it was not by the authority or intervention of the high priest, the religious head of the nation, but by that of the political viceroy. David’s horns, harps and organs were therefore the appointed instruments of the national acts of homage to Jehovah. The church now is not a nation, but purely a spiritual kingdom, which is not of this world. Hence there is no longer room in her worship for the horns, harps and organs, any more than for swords and stonings in her government, or human kings and high priest in her institutions.

Let the true inference from this partial use of instruments of music in the typical, national worship be fairly and perspicuously stated. It is but this: since God saw fit to ordain such an adjunct to divine worship for a special object, it proves the use of it not to be sin per se, like lying or theft, for a holy God would not ordain an unholy expedient for any object, however temporary. The same argument shows that incense, show-bread and bloody sacrifices in worship cannot be sin per se. But how far short is this admission from justifying the use of any of them in worship now? Just here is the pitiable confusion of thought. It is not enough for the advocate of a given member of the church’s cultus to show that it is not essentially criminal. He must show that god ordained it positively for our dispensation.

Dr. Girardeau’s opponents stubbornly forget that the burthen of proof rests on them; he is not bound to prove that these instruments are per se criminal, or that they are mischievous or dangerous, although he is abundantly able to prove the latter. It is they who must prove affirmatively that god has appointed and required their use in his New Testament worship, or they are transgressors. Doubtless the objection in every opponent’s mind is this: That, after all, Dr. Girardeau is making a conscientious point on too trivial and non-essential a matter. I am not surprised to meet this impression in the popular mind, aware as I am that this age of universal education is really a very ignorant one. But it is a matter of grief to find ministers so oblivious of the first lessons of their church history. They seem totally blind to the historical fact that it was just thus every damnable corruption which has cursed the church took its beginning; in the addition to the modes of worship ordained by Christ for the new dispensation, of human devices, which seemed ever so pretty an appropriate, made by the best of men and women and ministers with the very best of motives, and borrowed mostly from the temple cultus of the Jews. Thus came vestments, pictures in churches, incense, the observance of the martyrs’ anniversary days—in a word, that whole apparatus of will-worship and superstition which bloomed into popery and idolatry. “Why, all these pretty inventions were innocent. The very best of people used them. They were so appropriate, so aesthetic! Where could the harm be?” history answers the question: They disobeyed God and introduced popery,—a result quite unforeseen by the good souls who began the mischief! Yes, but those who have begun the parallel mischief in our Presbyterian Church cannot plead the same excuse, for they are forewarned by a tremendous history, and prefer Mrs. Grundy’s taste to the convincing light of experience.

That a denomination, professing like ours to be anti-prelatic and anti-ritualistic, should throw down the bulwarks of their argument against these errors by this recent innovation appears little short of lunacy. Prelatists undertake every step of the argument which these Presbyterians use for their organ, and advance them in a parallel manner to defend the re-introduction of the Passover or Easter, of Whitsuntide, of human priests and priestly vestments, and of chrism, into the gospel church. “God’s appointment of them in the old Dispensation proves them to be innocent. Christians have a right to add to the cultus ordained for the New Testament whatever they think appropriate, provided it is innocent; and especially are such additions lawful if borrowed from the Old Dispensation.” I should like to see the Presbyterian who has refuted Dr. Girardeau in argument meet a prelatist, who justifies these other additions by that Presbyterian’s own logic. Would not his consistency be something like that pictured by the old proverb of “Satan reproving sin”? Again, if the New Testament church has priests, these priests must have sacrifice. Thus, consistency will finally lead that Presbyterian to the real corporeal presence and the mass.

To rebut further the charge that Dr. Girardeau is stickling for an unimportant point, I shall now proceed to assert the prudential and the doctrino-psychological arguments against the present organ worship.

1st. Sound prudence and discretion decide against it. The money cost of these instruments, with the damaging debts incurred for them, is a sufficient objection. The money they cost, if expended in mission work, would do infinitely more good to souls and honor to God. In our poor church, how many congregations are there which are today mocking Dr. Craig with a merely nominal contribution to missions on the plea of an organ debt of $1,600 to $3,600! This latter says it is able to spare $3,600 for a Christian’s use (or does it propose to cheat the organ builder?). I ask solemnly, Is it right to expend so much of God’s money, which is needed to rescue perishing souls, upon an object merely non-essential, at best only a luxury? Does the Christian conscience, in measuring the worth of souls and God’s glory, deliberately prefer the little to the much?

Again, instruments in churches are integral parts of a system which is fruitful of choir quarrels and church feuds. How many pastoral relations have they helped to disrupt? They tend usually to choke congregational singing, and thus to rob the body of God’s people of their God-given right to praise him in his sanctuary. They almost always help to foster anti-scriptural styles of church music, debauching to the taste, and obstructive, instead of assisting, to true devotional feelings. Whereas the advocates of organs usually defend them on grounds of musical culture and aesthetic refinement, I now attack them on those very grounds. I assert that the organ is peculiarly inimical to lyrical taste, good music, and every result which a cultivated taste pursues, apart from conscientious regard for God. The instrument, by its very structure, is incapable of adaptation to the true purposes of lyrical music. It cannot have any arsis or thesis, any rhythm or expression of emphasis, such as the pulsatile instruments have. Its tones are too loud, brassy and dominant; all syllabication is drowned. Thus the church music is degraded from that didactic, lyrical eloquence, which is its scriptural conception, to those senseless sounds expressly condemned by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 12.-14. In truth, the selection of this particular instrument as the preferred accompaniment of our lyrical worship betrays artistic ignorance in Protestants, or else a species of superfluity of naughtiness in choosing precisely the instrument specially suited to popish worship.

It so happens that the artistic world has an amusement—the Italian opera—whose aim is very non-religious indeed, but whose art-theory and method are precisely the same with those of scriptural church music. Both are strictly lyrical. The whole conception in each is this: to use articulate, rational words and sentences as vehicles for intelligible thoughts, by which the sentiments are to be affected, and to give them the aid of metre, rhythm and musical sounds to make the thoughts impressive. Therefore, all the world’s artists select, for the opera-orchestras, only the pulsatile and chiefly the stringed instruments.

As organ has never been seen in a theatre Europe; only those instruments are admitted which can express arsis and thesis. I presume the proposal to introduce an organ into the Italian opera would be received by every musical artist in Europe as a piece of bad taste, which would produce a guffaw of contempt. This machine, thus fatally unfit for all the true purposes of musical worship and lyrical expression, has, indeed, a special adaptation to the idolatrous purposes of Rome, to which purposes all Protestants profess to be expressly hostile. So that, in selecting so regularly Rome’s special instrument of idolatry, these Protestants either countenance their own enemies or betray an artistic ignorance positively vulgar. Consequently, one is not surprised to find this incorrect taste offending every cultivated Christian ear by every imaginable perversity, under the pretext of divine worship. The selections made are the most bizarre and unsuitable. The execution is over loud, inarticulate, brassy, fitted only “to split the ears of the groundleings, capable, for the most part, of naught but inexplicable noise and dumbshows.” The pious taste is outraged by the monopolizing of sacred time, and the indecent thrusting aside of God’s holy worship to make room for “solos,” which are unfit in composition, and still more so in execution, where the accompaniment is so hopelessly out of relation to the voice that if the one had the small-pox (as apparently it often has St. Vitus’ dance) the other would be in no danger of catching the disease, and the words, probably senseless at best, are so mouthed as to convey no more ideas to the hearers than the noise of Chines tom-toms. Worshippers of true taste and intelligence, who know what the fines music in Europe really is, are so wearied by these impertinences that they almost shiver at the thought of the infliction. The holy places of our God are practically turned into fifth-rate Sunday theatres.

I shall be reminded that there are some presbyterian churches with organs where these abuses do not follow. “They need not follow in any.” I reply that they are the customary result of the unscriptural plans. If there should be some sedate boys who are allowed to play with fire-arms, but do not shoot their little sisters through the brain, yet that result follows so often as to ground the rule that no parent should allow this species of plaything to his children. The innovation is in itself unhealthy; and hence, when committed to the management of young people, who have but a slim modicum of cultivation, such as prevails in this country at large, has a regular tendency to all these offensive abuses.

2nd. I find a still more serious objection to instrumental music in churches when I connect the doctrine of God’s word concerning worship with the facts of human psychology. Worship must be an act of personal homage to God, or it is a hypocrisy and offence. The rule is that we must “glorify God in our bodies and spirits, which are his.” The whole human person, with all its faculties, appropriately takes part in this worship; or they are all redeemed by him and consecrated to him. Hence our voices should, at suitable times, accompany our minds and hearts. Again, all true worship is rational. The truth intelligently known and intelligibly uttered is the only instrument and language of true worship. Hence all social public worship must be didactic. The apostle has settled this beyond possible dispute in 1st Corinthians. Speaking in an unknown tongue, when there is no one to interpret, he declares can have no possible religious use, except to be a testimony for converting pagan unbelievers. If none such are present, Paul expressly orders the speaker in unknown tongues to be silent in the congregation; and this although the speaker could correctly claim the afflatus of the Holy Ghost. This strict prohibition Paul grounds on the fact that such a tongue, even though a miraculous charism, was not an articulate vehicle for sanctifying truth. And, as though he designed to clinch the application of this rule upon these very instruments of music, he selects them as the illustration of what he means. I beg the reader to examine 1 Corinthians 14:7,8,9.

Once more: man’s animal nature is sensitive, through the ear, to certain sensuous, aesthetic impressions from melody, harmony and rhythm. There is, on the one hand, a certain analogy between the sensuous excitements of the acoustic nerves and sensorium and the rational sensibilities of the soul.. (It is precisely this psychologic fact which grounds the whole power and pleasure of lyrical compositions.) Now, the critical points are these: That, while these sensuous excitements are purely animal and are no more essentially promotive of faith, holiness, or light in the conscience than the quiver of the fox-hunting horses’ ears at the sound of the bugle or the howl of the hound whelp at th sound of his master’s piano, sinful men, fallen and blinded, are ever ready to abuse this faint analogy by mistaking the sensuous impressions for, and confounding them with, spiritual affections. Blinded men are ever prone to imagine that they have religious feelings, because they have sensuous, animal feelings, in accidental juxtaposition with religious places, words, or sighs. This is the pernicious mistake which has sealed up millions of self-deceived souls for hell.

Rome encourages the delusion continually. She does this with a certain consistency between her policy and her false creed. She holds that, no matter by what motive men are induced to receive her sacraments, these convey saving grace, ex opere operato. Hence she consistently seduces men, in every way she can, to receive her sacraments by any spectacular arts or sensuous thrills of harmony. Now, Protestants ought to know that (as the apostle says) there is no more spiritual affection in these excitements of the sensorium than in sounding brass or in tinkling cymbal.

Protestants cannot plead the miserable consistency of Rome in aiding men to befool themselves to their own perdition by these confusions, for they profess to reject all opus operatum effects of sacraments, and to recognize no other instrument of sanctification than the one Christ assigned, THE TRUTH. But these organ-grinding Protestant churches are aiding and encouraging tens of thousands of their members to adopt this pagan mistake. Like the besotted Papist, they are deluded into the fancy that their hearts are better because certain sensuous, animal emotions are aroused by a mechanical machine, in a place called a church, and in a proceeding called worship.

Here, then, is the rationale of God’s policy in limiting his musical worship to the melodies of the human voice. It is a faculty of the redeemed person, and not the noise of a dead machine. The human voice, while it can produce melodious tones, can also articulate the words which are intelligible vehicles of divine truths. The hymns sung by the human voice can utter didactic truth with the impressiveness of right articulation and emphasis, and thus the pious singers can do what God commands—teach one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. For his Christian church, the non-appointment of mechanical accompaniment was its prohibition. Time will prove, we fear by a second corruption of evangelical religion and by the ruin of myriads more of nominally Christian souls, how much wiser is the psychology of the Bible than that of Mrs. Grundy.

The reader has by this time seen that I ascribe this recent departure of our Presbyterian churches from the rule of their fathers in no degree to more liberal views or enlightened spirit. I know, by an intuition which I believe every sensible observer shares, that the innovation is merely the result of an advancing wave of worldliness and ritualism in the evangelical bodies. These Christians are not wiser but simply more flesh-pleasing and fashionable. That is exactly the dimension of the strange problem. Other ritualistic adjuncts concur from time to time. Nothing is needed but the lapse of years enough for this drift, of which this music is a part, to send back great masses of our people, a material well prepared for the delusion, into the bosom of Rome and her kindred connections.

This melancholy opinion is combined, in our minds, with a full belief in the piety, good intentions and general soundness of many ministers and laymen who are now aiding the innovations. No doubt the advocates of instrumental music regard this as the sting of Dr. Girardeau’s argument, that it seems to claim all the fidelity and piety for the anti-organ party. No doubt many hearts are now exclaiming, “This is unjust, and thousands of our saintliest women are in the organ loft; our soundest ministers have organs,” &c., &c. All this is perfectly true. It simply means that the best of people err and unintentionally do mischief when they begin to lean to their own understandings. The first organ I ever knew of in a Virginian Presbyterian church was introduced by one of the wisest and most saintly of pastors, a paragon of old school doctrinal rigor. But he avowedly introduced it on an argument the most unsound and perilous possible for a good man to adopt—that it would be advantageous to prevent his young people from leaving his church to run after the Episcopal organ in the city. Of course such an argument would equally justify every other sensational and spectacular adjunct to God’s ordinances, which is not criminal per se. Now this father’s general soundness prevented his carrying out the pernicious argument to other applications. A very bad organ remained the only unscriptural feature in a church otherwise well-ordered. But another less sound and staid will not carry the improper principle to disastrous results? The conclusion of this matter is, then, that neither the piety nor the good intention of our respectable opponents is disparaged by us; but that the teachers and rulers of our church, learning from the great reformers and the warning lights of church history, should take the safer position alongside of Dr. Girardeau. Their united advice would easily and pleasantly lead back to the Bible ground all the zealous and pious laymen and the saintly ladies who have been misled by fashion and incipient ritualism.

R.L. DABNEY.

Observance of the Christian Sabbath for the Reformed Christian

The Sabbath is quite sticky wicket today for many on the Reformed side of the fence. In the not too distant past it was pretty common and expected in Reformed circles that one would observe the first day of the week alone as Sabbath, but today many have either ignored the traditions expectation or just flat out disregarded it as an acquiesce to pagan culture. We’ll look first at how Westminster defines the Sabbath to show what our Confessions teach. Then look at a couple comments from Church leaders and theologians.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day”. Section 7-8 reads:

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.
8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe a holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

Now the verse in question for today’s discussion is Colossians 2:15-17. Here it seems that Paul clearly says that we are no longer held to any type of Sabbath observance. However Calvin in his Institutes says this concerning the issue.

“I am obliged to dwell a little longer on this, because some restless spirits are now making an outcry about the observance of the Lord’s day. They complain that Christian people are trained in Judaism, because some observance of days is retained. My reply is, That those days are observed by us without Judaism, because in this matter we differ widely from the Jews. We do not celebrate it with the most minute formality, as a ceremony by which we imagine that a spiritual mystery is typified, but we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the church. Paul informs us that Christians are not to be judged in respect of its observance, because it is a shadow of something to come, (Col. 2:16); and, accordingly, he expresses a fear lest his labour among the Galatians should prove in vain, because they still observed days, (Gal. 4:10,11). And he tells the Romans that it is superstitious to make one day differ from another, (Rom. 14:5). But who, except those restless men, does not see what the observance is to which the Apostle refers? Those persons had no regard to that politic and ecclesiastical arrangement, but by retaining the days as types of spiritual things, they in so far obscured the glory of Christ, and the light of the Gospel. They did not desist from manual labour on the ground of its interfering with sacred study and meditation, but as a kind of religious observance; because they dreamed that by their cessation from labour, they were cultivating the mysteries which had of old been committed to them. It was, I say, against this preposterous observance of days that the Apostle inveighs, and not against that legitimate selection which is subservient to the peace of Christian society. For in the churches established by him, this was the use for which the Sabbath was retained. He tells the Corinthians to set the first day apart for collecting contributions for the relief of their brethren at Jerusalem, (1 Cor. 16:2). If superstition is dreaded, there was more danger in keeping the Jewish Sabbath than the Lord’s day as Christians now do. It being expedient to overthrow superstition, the Jewish holy day was abolished; and as a thing necessary to retain decency, order, and peace in the church, another day was appointed for that purpose.”

and

REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY. SIX DAYS SHALT THOU LABOUR AND DO ALL THY WORK: BUT THE SEVENTH DAY IS THE SABBATH OF THE LORD THY GOD. IN IT THOU SHALT NOT DO ANY WORK, &C.

28. The purport of the commandment is, that being dead to our own affections and works, we meditate on the kingdom of God, and in order to such meditation, have recourse to the means which he has appointed. But as this commandment stands in peculiar circumstances apart from the others, the mode of exposition must be somewhat different. Early Christian writers are wont to call it typical, as containing the external observance of a day which was abolished with the other types on the advent of Christ. This is indeed true; but it leaves the half of the matter untouched. Wherefore, we must look deeper for our exposition, and attend to three cases in which it appears to me that the observance of this commandment consists. First, under the rest of the seventh days the divine Lawgiver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which believers were to cease from their own works, and allow God to work in them. Secondly he meant that there should be a stated day on which they should assemble to hear the Law, and perform religious rites, or which, at least, they should specially employ in meditating on his works, and be thereby trained to piety. Thirdly, he meant that servants, and those who lived under the authority of others, should be indulged with a day of rest, and thus have some intermission from labour.

29. We are taught in many passages hat this adumbration of spiritual rest held a primary place in the Sabbath. Indeed, there is no commandment the observance of which the Almighty more strictly enforces. When he would intimate by the Prophets that religion was entirely subverted, he complains that his sabbaths were polluted, violated, not kept, not hallowed; as if, after it was neglected, there remained nothing in which he could be honoured. The observance of it he eulogises in the highest terms, and hence, among other divine privileges, the faithful set an extraordinary value on the revelation of the Sabbath. In Nehemiah, the Levites, in the public assembly, 340thus speak: “Thou madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant.” You see the singular honour which it holds among all the precepts of the Law. All this tends to celebrate the dignity of the mystery, which is most admirably expressed by Moses and Ezekiel. Thus in Exodus: “Verily my sabbaths shall ye keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you. Ye shall keep my sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever does any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever,” (Exodus 31:13–17). Ezekiel is still more full, but the sum of what he says amounts to this: that the sabbath is a sign by which Israel might know that God is their sanctifier. If our sanctification consists in the mortification of our own will, the analogy between the external sign and the thing signified is most appropriate. We must rest entirely, in order that God may work in us; we must resign our own will, yield up our heart, and abandon all the lusts of the flesh. In short, we must desist from all the acts of our own mind, that God working in us, we may rest in him, as the Apostle also teaches (Heb. 3:13; 4:3, 9).

But what about Colossians 2:16? R.L Dabney responds saying:

After the new dispensation was set up, the Christians converted from among the Jews had generally combined the worship of Judaism with that of Christianity. They observed the Lord’s day, baptism and the Lord’s supper, but they also continued to keep the seventh day, circumcision and the passover. Nor was this wrong for them during the transition state. Acts (ch. 21) tells us that the apostle Paul did so himself. But at first it was proposed by then, to enforce this double system on all Gentile Christians as a permanent one. Of this plan we have the full history in Acts 15, where it was rebuked by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. A certain part of the Jewish Christians, out of which ultimately grew the Ebionite sect, continued, however, to observe the forms of both dispensations, and restless spirits among the churches planted by Paul, which contained both Jewish and Gentile members, continued to make trouble on this point. Some of them conjoined with this Ebionite view the graver heresy of justification by the merit of ritual and ascetic observances, as we see in the Epistles to the Galatians and Colossians. Thus at that day this spectacle was exhibited: In the mixed Christians churches some brethren went to the synagogue on Saturday and to the church on Sunday, keeping both days holy. Other brethren — Gentiles — paid no respect to Saturday,and kept only Sunday. Others again — Jews — felt bound to keep not only Saturday and Sunday, but all the Jewish sacred times — the new moons, the paschal, pentecostal and atonement feasts and the sabbatical years. Here was ground of difference and of mutual accusations. This was the mischief to which the apostle had to bring a remedy. We may add that the question about dean and unclean meats was mingled with that about Jewish days. Was it right now for any Jewish Christians to do as the Gentile Christians did — use bacon, lard, and the butcher’s meat of animals which had been killed at pagan altars?

Now, let us see the divine truth and wisdom with which the apostle settles the disputes. One thing which he enjoins (at the end of Rom. 14) is, that whether any man’s light is wholly correct or not, he must act conscientiously. He must not do the things which honestly seemed to him wrong, for if he did there was sin, the sin of outraging his own conscience, even though his scruple turned out to be a mistake. Then, first of all, let everybody act conscientiously. He tells them, secondly (Rom. 14:3, 4), not to be censorious, but to respect each other’s conscientious convictions, even when they seemed groundless. For there is no positive sin in itself in letting alone bacon, for instance, or stopping work on Saturday; and if a brother’s mind is under error as to the duty of doing so, he deserves our respect at least for conscientiously denying himself in these things. But, third, when the apostle saw some professed Christians teaching that a man should make self-righteous merit by continuing to burden himself with the Jewish new-moons, sabbaths, fasts, annual passover feasts and sabbatical years, after the obligation of them in fact was repealed he confessed that this alarmed him (Gal. 4:11), and made him fed as though all his trouble in preaching salvation by free grace to them was to go for nothing. For this idea of making merit by observing self-imposed ceremonies and troublesome rites was entirely a different matter from those other conscientious mistakes, and it involved the very poison of will-worship and self-righteousness. Hence (Col. 2:16 to end) he expressly and solemnly condemns it all. This never had been the gospel, either under the Old Testament or the New. To appoint the means of grace for his people, this was God’s part. As long as any ordinance was commanded by him, our part was to make use of it, humbly and faithfully, as a means of grace, in order to strengthen the faith and repentance which bring us to the Saviour. But the moment any man undertook to build up his self-righteousness on will-worship he was under a soul-destroying error, which must not be tolerated one moment. Hence the apostle commands that these Jewish holy days, feasts and fasts, are not to be enforced on anybody; and he explains that they were no longer binding, because that new dispensation of which they were shadows or types had now come with its own divinely-appointed ordinances, and taken the place of others. He did not design to be understood as speaking at all of the Lord’s day, which is one of these New Testament ordinances. He means only the Jewish holy days. Does not the consistency of this view with itself and the Scriptures show that it is the true one?

But some one may rejoin that he was speaking of the Lord’s day also, because he says (Col. 2:16), “Let no man, therefore, judge you in respect of a holy day, or of the new-moon, or of the sabbath days.” This objector is under a delusion. The word “Sabbath” is never applied by a New Testament writer or by one of the writers of the primitive church to the Lord’s day or Christian Sabbath — never once. This all learned critics admit. All those early writers carefully reserve the word “Sabbath,” which is a Hebrew word, to denote the holy days of the Old Testament; and when they would speak of the holy day of the New Testament they call it “first day of the week” or “Lord’s day” or “Sunday.” The Westminster Assembly did indeed say of the Lord’s day, “which is the Christian Sabbath.” This was intended to teach an important truth which had been denied by the objectors, that the Lord’s day is to us by divine appointment what the Sabbath was to the Jews as to its main substance.

The word “Sabbath” was of wide significance among the Jews. It meant not only the hallowed seventh day, but also the “week” or space of seven days. The Pharisee says: “I fast twice in the week” (Luke 18:12). In the Greek it is “twice in the sabbath.” The word was also a common name for all the Jewish festivals, including even the whole sabbatical year, with new-moons, passovers, and such like holy days. “I gave them my sabbaths [my religious festivals] to be a sign between them and me” (Ezek. 20:12). “The land shall enjoy her sabbaths” (Lev. 23:24; 26:34; compare 2Chron. 36:21).

Well this ought to give us a good place to start. I will post some more regarding this subject the rest of the week.

Remember Thy Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy

Of the many Reformed doctrines that have been forgotten, argued out of existence, or just downright ignored by Confessional and liberal Presbyterians since the death of Princeton (The Hodges’, Warfield, etc…) and Southern theology (Robert Lewis Dabney, James Henley Thornwell, etc…) at the turn of the 20th century none is probably more widespread then the slipping away of the observance of the Sabbath day. Now I do not want to discuss Blue Laws or any such civil matter in this discussion but want to focus exclusively on the Sabbath observance of the New Testament Christian. There are two key passages for us to look at when discussing this issue. The first is Colossians 2:15-17

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of
them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as
your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon
or a Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the
substance belongs to Christ.

and the second is Hebrews 4:9

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

At first glance it would seem to look like these two verse contradict each other. One says that no one is to command you as to whether you should or should not observe the Sabbath because the Sabbath is but a shadow of things to come. The other says the Sabbath remains in effect for the people of God. Well in my posting this week I’ll expand more on these verses and others to show why I believe we are still to hold to a strict Sabbath observence in the New Testament Church.