Larger font
Smaller font

The Change of the Sabbath

 - Contents
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font

    Chapter 11- The Sabbath in the Early Centuries after Christ

    THE seventh day continued to be kept for several centuries after Christ, but with a sacredness gradually decreasing in proportion to the rising influence of Sunday, until the Roman Catholic Church became so powerful that, wherever it had sway, it put down the Sabbath, and exalted the first day of the week to its place in the observance of the people. This, as we shall see, was a gradual work, taking several centuries for its accomplishment.ChSa 85.1

    Says the learned Mr. Morer, of the Church of England:ChSa 85.2

    “The primitive Christians had a great veneration for the Sabbath, and spent the day in devotion and sermons. And it is not to be doubted but that they derived this practice from the apostles themselves, as appears by several scriptures to that purpose.”-Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, p. 189.ChSa 85.3

    A learned English writer of the seventeenth century, William Twisse, D.D, thus states the early history of these two days:ChSa 85.4

    “Yet for some hundred years in the primitive church, not the Lord’s day only, but the seventh day also, was religiously observed, not by Ebion and Cerinthus alone, but by the pious Christians also, as Baronius writes and Gomarus confesses, and Rivet also, that we are bound in conscience, under the gospel. To allow for God’s service a better proportion of time than the Jews did under the law, rather than a worse.”-Morality of the Fourth Commandment, p. 9. London, 1641.ChSa 85.5

    The learned Geisler also states the same fact, and that this practice of observing the seventh day was not confined to the Jewish converts:ChSa 86.1

    “While the Jewish Christians of Palestine retained the entire Mosaic law, and consequently the Jewish festivals, the Gentile Christians observed also the Sabbath and the Passover, with reference to the last scenes of Jesus’ life, but without Jewish superstition.”-Ecclesiastical History, Volume 1, chapter 2, section 30.ChSa 86.2

    These statements are certainly very explicit proof of the continued observance of the Sabbath in the centuries immediately succeeding the apostolic age, and they come from those who could have no prejudice in favor of the seventh day.ChSa 86.3

    But we notice others of similar import. Coleman speaks as follows:ChSa 86.4

    “The last day of the week was strictly kept in connection with that of the first day for a long time after the overthrow of the temple and its worship. Down even to the fifth century the observance of the Jewish Sabbath was continued in the Christian church, but with a rigor and solemnity diminishing until it was wholly discontinued.”-Ancient Christianity Exemplified, chapter 6, section 2.ChSa 86.5

    In this extract, the writer speaks of the first day’s being observed also. In the same chapter he tells us how it was regarded in these early ages:ChSa 86.6

    “During the early ages of the church it was never entitled ‘the Sabbath,’ this word being confined to the seventh day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath, which, as we have already said, continued to be observed for several centuries by the converts to Christianity.”ChSa 86.7

    He tells us again in a few words how the first day of the week, which he, like many other first-day writers, calls “the Lord’s day,” though without good authority for so doing, came gradually to work its way into the position of the true Sabbath:ChSa 86.8

    “The observance of the Lord’s day was ordered while yet the Sabbath of the Jews was continued; nor was the latter superseded until the former had acquired the same solemnity and importance which belonged, at first, to that great day which God originally ordained and blessed.... But in time, after the Lord’s day was fully established, the observance of the Sabbath of the Jews was gradually discontinued, and was finally denounced as heretical.”ChSa 87.1

    We shall see that the facts of history fully sustain the statement of this first-day writer. The Sunday festival at first only asked toleration; but as it gradually gained strength, it undermined the Sabbath, whose adherents were finally denounced as heretical.ChSa 87.2

    Bishop Jeremy Taylor, of the Church of England, a man of great learning, also bears testimony incidentally to the same fact, the observance of the Sabbath for centuries after Christ, though he was a decided opponent of Sabbath obligation:ChSa 87.3

    “It [the Lord’s day] was not introduced by virtue of the fourth commandment, because they for almost three hundred years together kept that day which was in that commandment.”-Ductor Dubitantium, part 1, book 2, chapter 2, rule 6, section 51.ChSa 87.4

    We quote another testimony from a member of the English Church, Edward Brerewood, Professor in Gresham College, London:ChSa 87.5

    “The ancient Sabbath did remain and was observed, together with the celebration of the Lord’s day, by the Christians of the East Church, above three hundred years after our Savior’s death. And besides that, no other day for more hundreds of years than I spoke of before, was known in the church by the name of the Sabbath but that.”-Learned Treatise of the Sabbath, p. 77, Oxford, 1631.ChSa 87.6

    These testimonies should certainly satisfy reasonable minds of the continued observance of the Sabbath of the Lord for a long time after the death of the apostles. As will be shown when we consider the growth of the Sunday institution, it gradually increased from several causes, till it became a rival of the ancient day. By the end of the third century it had acquired almost an equality with the Sabbath itself in the regard of many of the Gentile Christians. In the same ratio, the latter was decreasing in relative importance in the minds of many.ChSa 87.7

    In the beginning of the fourth century an event occurred which vastly accelerated this process, and raised the first day and correspondingly depressed the seventh day in the balancing scale of esteem in the minds of the people. This was an edict of the emperor Constantine, issued AD. 321, which required all trades-people and towns-people to rest on “the venerable day of the sun,” though it did not forbid labor in sowing or planting in the country. This is the first law commanding rest on the first day of the week, which can be found on record in all history, either human or sacred. We shall fully consider it when we notice the steps by which the first day rose to authority. The effect of this law upon the ancient Sabbath was greatly to decrease the regard of the people for it, and to turn the tide of influence strongly in favor of its rival.ChSa 88.1

    On this point an able writer, Mr. Cox, remarks:ChSa 88.2

    “Very shortly after the period when Constantine issued his edict enjoining the general observance of Sunday throughout the Roman empire, the party that had contended for the observance of the seventh day, dwindled into insignificance. The observance of Sunday as a public festival, during which all business, with the exception of rural employment, was intermitted, came to be more and more generally established ever after this time, throughout both the Greek and Latin churches. There is no evidence, however, that either in this, or at a period much later, the observance was viewed as deriving any obligation from the fourth commandment. It seems to have been regarded as an institution corresponding in nature with Christmas, Good Friday, and other festivals of the church; and as resting with them on the ground of ecclesiastical authority and tradition!”-Sabbath Laws Examined, pp. 280, 281.ChSa 88.3

    However, even with this powerful influence of the great Roman emperor thrown into the scale against the ancient Sabbath, it still continued to share public esteem for a long time. It took a strong combination of influences, secular and religious, entirely to obliterate from the public memory this grand ancient institution, the Sabbath of creation; but the gradual disintegrating influences continued to wear away its God-given sanctity. A heathen Roman emperor, a tyrant, a murderer, one who killed his own wife and his own son and many other innocent persons, took one prominent step to debase it. The Sabbath never fully recovered from this blow, although it was still regarded as a day for religious meetings. Dr. Heylyn, speaking of the Sabbath in Constantine’s time, says:ChSa 88.4

    “As for the Saturday, that retained its wonted credit in the Eastern churches, little inferior to the Lord’s day, if not plainly equal; not as the Sabbath, think not so; but as a day designed unto sacred meetings.”-History of the Sabbath, part 2, chap. 3, sec. 5.ChSa 89.1

    After Constantine’s time, there seems to have been in a measure a revival of interest in, and reverence for, the Sabbath in the minds of many Christians, at least in the Eastern churches, where the influence of the Roman Church was less powerful.ChSa 89.2

    Professor Stewart, in speaking of the period from Constantine to the Council of Laodicea, AD. 364, says:ChSa 89.3

    “The practice of it [the keeping of the Sabbath] was continued by Christians who were jealous for the honor of the Mosaic law, and finally became, as we have seen, predominant throughout Christendom. It was supposed at length that the fourth commandment did require the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath (not merely a seventh part of time). And reasoning as Christians of the present day are wont to do, viz., that all which belonged to the ten commandments was immutable and perpetual, the churches in general came gradually to regard the seventh day Sabbath as altogether sacred.”-Appendix to Gurney’s History, etc., of the Sabbath, pp. 115, 116.ChSa 89.4

    Larger font
    Smaller font