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The Change of the Sabbath

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    Chapter 16- Attitude of the Reformers toward Sunday

    THOUGH the position the Reformers took in relation to the first day of the week is not directly connected with the main object of these articles, we cannot forego a brief chapter on this subject. Our investigation of the rise of Sunday to prominence as a sacred day in the church, has thus far been wholly connected with the apostasy, which finally developed into the papacy. The rise of Sunday kept even pace with the work of corruption in the church, so that the highest point of Roman apostasy was contemporary with the highest degree of Sunday sacredness. The inquiring reader will be anxious to know what ground the great Reformers took relative to this institution. We will answer briefly.ChSa 132.1

    The great Reformation of the sixteenth century arose in the bosom of the Catholic Church itself. Many of the Reformers were priests of that church before the Reformation commenced. All of them had been trained up in its communion, and were accustomed to observe its festivals, and had, at first, full respect for its authority. They were, in short, good Catholics when they began the work of reform. From their earliest infancy they had reverenced the institutions of the church, and at first never dreamed of leaving the church or of rebelling against the pope. They doubtless would have remained in the bosom of the church had they not been so pressed by their enemies that, driven to the wall, they had to take their stand.ChSa 132.2

    Under such circumstances it could not be expected that these men in that age of reverence for the hoary past would be able to see all the errors into which the church had drifted, or come back at once to the complete purity of apostolic religion. These men are deserving of high honor for the great advance out of darkness which they did make, and God greatly blessed their labors. But reformation since their time has still continued, and doubtless will continue till the close of time. No men of any one generation are entitled to all the credit for the blessed light of our age. It has been gradually dawning.ChSa 133.1

    Mosheim well says:ChSa 133.2

    “The vindicators of religious liberty do not discover all truth in an instant, but like persons emerging from long darkness, their vision improves gradually.”ChSa 133.3

    Dean Stanley says.ChSa 133.4

    “Each age of the church has, as it were, turned over a new leaf in the Bible, and found a response to its own wants.”-History of the Eastern Church, p. 79, ed. 1872.ChSa 133.5

    The Protestants of the present day would not accept all that the early Reformers believed. It is well known that Martin Luther and many others held fast to the doctrine of consubstantiation, that is, “to a real and corporeal presence of the body and blood of Christ, in, under, or along with the bread and wine.”-Mosheim. Many things were held and tolerated which we would not now think consistent. It causes no surprise, therefore, that most of the Reformers did not see all the truth of God’s word concerning the ancient Sabbath. After a thousand years of such gross darkness, while tradition was generally reckoned to be of supreme authority, this would have been too much to expect.ChSa 133.6

    But what was the position taken by them concerning Sunday sacredness? Did they regard it as the day which Christ had set apart as the Christian Sabbath? Did they consider there was any scriptural authority for it? That it was sin to do ordinary work upon it? Or that there was and command of God that it should be kept holy? Or did they consider it merely a festival day, like Christmas, Good Friday, or other days appointed by the church? We quote as follows:ChSa 133.7

    “In the Augsburg Confession, which was drawn up by Melanchthon [and approved by Luther], to the question, ‘What ought we to think of the Lord’s day?’ it is answered that the Lord’s day. Easter, Whitsuntide, and other such holy days ought to be kept, because they are appointed by the church, that all things may be done in order; but that the observance of them is not to be thought necessary to salvation, nor the violation of them, if it be done without offense to others, to be regarded as a sin!”-Cox’s Sabbath Laws, p. 287.ChSa 134.1

    The Confession of the Swiss churches says on this point:ChSa 134.2

    “The observance of the Lord’s day is founded not on any commandment of God, but on the authority of the church; and the church may alter the day at pleasure.”-Idem.ChSa 134.3

    Tyndale, the great English Reformer, said:ChSa 134.4

    “As for the Sabbath, we be lords over the Sabbath, and may yet change it into Monday, or into any other day as we see need, or may make every tenth day holy only if we see cause why!”-Tyndale’s Answer to More, book 1, chapter 25.ChSa 134.5

    Zwingle, the great Swiss Reformer, regarded it thus: “For we are no way bound to time, but time ought so to serve us, that it is lawful, and permitted to each church, when necessity urges (as is usual to be done in harvest time), to transfer the solemnity and rest of the Lord’s day, or Sabbath, to some other day.”-Hessey, p. 352.ChSa 134.6

    John Calvin said respecting the Sunday festival:ChSa 134.7

    “However, the ancients have not without sufficient reason substituted what we call the Lord’s day in the room of the Sabbath.... Yet I do not lay so much stress on the septenary number that I, would oblige the church to an invariable adherence to it; nor will I condemn those churches which have other solemn days for their assemblies, provided they keep at a distance from superstition.”-ChSa 134.8

    Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by John Alien, book 2, chap. 8, sec. 34.ChSa 135.1

    These word from Calvin, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, the strictest observers of Sunday, perhaps, of any denomination, may surprise many. But we shall find that their views of Sunday strictness were of later origin. Certainly Calvin did not share in them; for it seems he himself was not particularly strict as a Sunday-keeper. Dr. Hessey says:ChSa 135.2

    “Knox, the intimate friend of Calvin, visited Calvin, and, it is said, and on one occasion found him enjoying the recreation of bowls on Sunday.”-Hessey’s Bampton Lectures on Sunday, p. 201, ed. 1866.ChSa 135.3

    Calvin had Servitus arrested on Sunday. John Barclay, a learned man of Scotch descent, whose early life was spent near Geneva, published the statement that Calvin and his friends at Geneva-ChSa 135.4

    “Debated whether the reformed, for the purpose of estranging themselves more completely from the Roman Church, should not adopt Thursday as the “Christian Sabbath,” one reason assigned by Calvin being, “that it would be a proper instance of Christian liberty!””ChSa 135.5

    These statements have been credited by many learned Protestants, and we are not aware that they have ever been disproved. Knox was not such a believer in the sacredness of Sunday as Presbyterians now are. Thus we see the leading Reformers were not believers in Sunday sacredness, as many modern Protestants are. They considered it a church festival, and not as receiving its authority from the fourth commandment.ChSa 135.6

    Carlstadt, the German Reformer, kept the seventh day Sabbath. He was a leading Reformer, one who went farther in opposition to the Roman Church than Luther and many others. His position was in some respects more consistent than Luther’s. He insisted on rejecting everything in the Catholic Church not authorized by the Scriptures, while Luther was determined to retain everything not expressly forbidden. Had Carlstadt’s position been taken, the Protestant churches would have come much nearer the truth of the Bible on the Sabbath question than it has.ChSa 135.7

    Many will doubtless be surprised at these evidences of the low regard these early Reformers had for the Sunday Sabbath, admitting, as they did, that it was wholly an institution of the church, and not required in the Scriptures. It is well known that this is not now the general position of many of the Protestant churches. They consider Sunday the Sabbath by divine appointment, and would highly resent such sentiments as history records concerning the opinions of the leading Reformers. Some may doubt the truthfulness of these statements; but we assure them that there are no facts better attested, and that we could present much evidence on this point substantiating what we have already said.ChSa 136.1

    The real facts are these: In the great controversy in England between the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, the Presbyterians rejected the authority of the church and most of its festivals, while the Episcopalians required men to observe all the festivals of the church. Hence it was clearly seen that in order to maintain the authority of Sunday, which the Presbyterians kept, they must find some other arguments in its behalf than those which had sustained it for so many ages. They had therefore either to give up Sunday, or try to find arguments for it in the Bible. They chose the latter course.ChSa 136.2

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