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The Signs of the Times, vol. 13

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    September 1, 1887

    “The Fourth Commandment. No. 3” The Signs of the Times 13, 34, pp. 534, 535.

    “SIX days shalt thou labor, 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.” But when the commandment says that we shall not do any work, it does not say that we shall not do anything. It is not the intent of the commandment that we shall spend the day in listless idleness. Besides the worship of God, and the going to the place of worship, which we shall notice afterward, the Saviour gives us the plain meaning of the commandment when he says, “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.” To know therefore what form of activity is in keeping with the purpose of the fourth commandment, we need to study closely the words of the Saviour on that subject.SITI September 1, 1887, page 534.1

    The prophecy said of Christ, “He will magnify the law and make it honorable.” In all his teaching he did so. He was constantly expanding the people’s view of the law of God, and spreading forth that law and its claims till it reached the very thoughts and intents of the heart. In Matthew 5:21-26 he sets forth the sixth commandment; in verses 27-32 he magnifies the seventh commandment; in verses 33-36 he expounds the third commandment; in other places others; and in Matthew 12:5-13, with its parallel passages, we have his instructions upon the fourth commandment, in which he magnifies that commandment and spreads it abroad no less than any other one of the ten. That which was the immediate occasion which called forth his instruction upon this subject, was this: He and his disciples and some Pharisees were going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and their way led through a field of wheat. As they were passing along, his disciples, being hungry, pulled off some of the heads of wheat, and, “rubbing them in their hands, he shelled out the wheat and ate it. The Pharisees saw it and at once turned to Jesus with the charge, “Behold thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day.”SITI September 1, 1887, page 534.2

    Notice that there was no question raised as to what day is the Sabbath, nor anything of the kind; nor in fact was any such question ever raised in all the Saviour’s work on earth. The sole point in question here was, Were the disciples doing contrary to the law of the Sabbath, or were they acting in harmony with its provisions?SITI September 1, 1887, page 534.3

    First, to show that the disciples did no wrong in plucking the heads of wheat and shelling out the kernels to satisfy their hunger, on the Sabbath day, Jesus cited the case of David, who, fleeing for his life from the wrath of Saul, went into the house of God on the Sabbath day and ate the show-bread, which, according to a precept of the ceremonial law, was only to be eaten by the priests. Now they all allowed that David did no wrong. But if David was innocent in thus satisfying his hunger on the Sabbath, even though, in his extremity, he had to go beyond a precept of the ceremonial law to do it, most certainly the disciples were guiltless in satisfying their hunger as they did on the Sabbath, and all the more as at the time they were acting strictly according to the permission of the Mosaic law. For it was plainly written, “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbor, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand.” Deuteronomy 23:25. So the Saviour in citing the case of David condemned the Pharisees, and justified his disciples by the very thing which the Pharisees allowed.SITI September 1, 1887, page 534.4

    Then Jesus shows what kind of work may be done on the Sabbath day, without sin. He says: “Have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” On the Sabbath day there was a double routine of priestly service in the sanctuary. Whereas during the week there was one lamb with the accompanying offerings in the morning, and another in the evening, on the Sabbath there were two of these in the morning and two in the evening. Thus the priests in the temple had double work to perform on the Sabbath, yet they were blameless. This did not violate the commandment at all, because it was not their work at all, nor for their own benefit; it was the Lord’s work and wholly in the conduct of his worship and the service of his sanctuary. From this it is evident that the words of the commandment, “In it thou shalt not do any work,” is not a command to remain listlessly idle on the Sabbath, but a command not to do any of our own work, nor any which partakes of any material or worldly interest. The six days are given us for this, “Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work,” but the Sabbath is for the work, the worship, and the special service of the Lord, “in it thou shalt not do any [of thy] work.”SITI September 1, 1887, page 534.5

    Next Jesus shows the nature and purpose of the Sabbath, and what kind of works are according to its provisions and the fullfillment [sic.] of its purpose. He says: “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.” By this it is shown that the Sabbath of the Lord is a merciful, and not a sacrificial, institution; and that whatever contravenes mercy on the Sabbath, and tends to make the Sabbath a burden instead of a joy, a yoke instead of a delight, is contrary to the intent of the Sabbath, and is a violation of the commandment instead of an observance of it, and is the breaking of the Sabbath rather than the keeping of it.SITI September 1, 1887, page 535.1

    This is shown more fully in what followed the foregoing conversation with the Pharisees. For they all went immediately into the synagogue, “And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse him.” Jesus said to the man with the withered hand “Stand forth in the midst.” Then talking to the Pharisees he asked, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.” And well they might hold their peace, for they did not dare to take the position that it was lawful to do evil on the Sabbath, they knew that the Sabbath was not made for the promotion of evil. And they did not want to allow that it was lawful to do good, or that that was the purpose of the Sabbath, for then they would be sanctioning the deeds of Jesus, which they were determined not to do. So all they could do was to hold their peace and in their bitter prejudice deepen their hatred of him, in their hearts. But it was not simply to silence the Pharisees that the Saviour asked these questions. It was more fully to bring forth the deep meaning and the merciful purpose of the Sabbath of the Lord.SITI September 1, 1887, page 535.2

    Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil? Of course everyone will say at once that it is not lawful to do evil. But if it is in the power of our hand to do good on the Sabbath day and we refuse to do it, in that very refusal we do evil, and so break the Sabbath instead of keeping it. Therefore the only possible deduction from the Saviour’s words is, It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, and that such is entirely in harmony with the purpose, and is carrying out the intent, of the Sabbath. Is it lawful to save life on the Sabbath, or to kill? But if it is within our power to save life on the Sabbath, and we refuse to do it, in that very refusal we have killed, and so have devoted the Sabbath to the most profane of all uses, instead of having fulfilled its sacred and heavenly purpose of mercy. Is it lawful to inflict sickness, distress, or suffering upon any person or thing, on the Sabbath day? Everyone will say at once that it is not lawful to do so. But if there is sickness, distress, or suffering on the Sabbath, which it is within our power to relieve, and we refuse to do so, then in that very refusal we have inflicted sickness, distress, or suffering, and so have debased the Sabbath and profaned it to the worst of uses, instead of remembering it to keep it holy, and devoting it to the purposes of mercy and heavenly good which God designs to accomplish by it. Such doings would be but to make the Sabbath the occasion of violating the law of God, and of dishonoring him, rather than of keeping holy that law and of honoring him.SITI September 1, 1887, page 535.3

    Nor are these considerations confined to our dealings with our fellow-men. We have found that the purpose of the commandment is mercy; and saith the Scripture, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10. Therefore said the Saviour in this same discourse, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” Therefore, whether it be suffering in man or in beast, that we may relieve on the Sabbath, it is keeping the Sabbath to render that relief, and it is breaking the Sabbath not to render it. Whether it be to man or to beast that we may do good on the Sabbath, it is keeping the Sabbath to do that good, and it is breaking the Sabbath not to do it. Yet it is not in keeping with the commandment to neglect to do good on other days of the week in order to do it on the Sabbath. Consequently the sum of it all is, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”SITI September 1, 1887, page 535.4