And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.…
I. THE DIRECT REASONS why we believe the Sabbath to have been instituted at the time when the sacred narrative begins. The transactions of the seventh day immediately follow those of the sixth, precisely as those of the sixth follow the fifth — the history is chronological, unbroken, complete. This is the reason each day's work comes in order. These were the transactions of the seventh day, which come as directly in succession after the preceding as any of the other days. The plain literal common sense interpretation of the history of the Scripture is indispensable to faith. But in the present case we have yet further reasons. The distribution of the work of creation into its parts would be deprived of its object and end, if the institution of the Sabbath were expunged. For why this distribution but to mark to man the proportion of time allotted him for his usual labour, and the proportion to be assigned to religious exercises? Again, where is the example in Scripture of any instituted commemoration not beginning from the time of its appointment? One is ashamed to urge more arguments in such a case — but what meaning, I ask, had Moses in his reference to six days' labour and a seventh day's Sabbath, as matters familiarly known, at the time of the miraculous fall of manna before the giving of the law, if there had not been a preceding institution? Or what is intended by the citation of the very language of my text in the fourth commandment, if the reason there assigned had not really reposed on facts — "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth."
II. THE JUST INFERENCES to be drawn from them as to the glory and dignity of the Sabbath.
1. We learn from them, first, its essential necessity to man as man.
2. Consider, further, that it was the first command given by God to Adam, as soon as ever the work of creation was finished. Man never was without a Sabbath.
3. Observe, further, that this command was not merely made known to man, in some of those ways in which his Maker afterwards communicated His will, but it was placed, as it were, on the footing of creation itself. By the Almighty Hand all nature might have been called into being in an instant. The distribution of the work over six days, followed by the repose on the seventh, was to infix this grand principle in the mind of every human being, that after six days' labour one day of religious rest should follow.
4. We learn also from this order of creation that man was made, not for constant and unrelieved employment or for earthly pursuits chiefly, but for labour with intervals of repose, and in subordination to the glory of his God; man was formed not for seven days' toil, but for six — man was formed not for secular and terrestrial pursuits merely, but for the high purpose of honouring God, meditating on His works, and preparing for the enjoyment of Him forever.
III. Let us next show that THERE ARE TRACES OF THE OBSERVATION OF A WEEKLY REST DURING THE PATRIARCHAL AGES. The very first act of Divine worship after the Fall affords indications of a day of religion. Cain and Abel brought their offerings "in process of time," as the common reading has it, but literally, and as it is in the margin, "at the end of the days." Thus we have in the sacred narrative, the priest, altar, matter of sacrifice, motive, atonement made and accented, and appointed time — indications these entirely consistent with the supposition of a previous sabbatical institution, and indeed proceeding upon it — for that is the meaning of the expression, "at the end of the days." But one division of days had been yet mentioned, and that was of the days of the week, the Sabbath being the last or seventh day — we may, therefore, reasonably suppose that holy season to be here termed "the end of the days." Again, we read that "men," in the days of Seth (two hundred years, perhaps, after Abel's sacrifice), "began to call upon the name of the Lord," or, "to call themselves by the name of the Lord"; and four hundred years later, that "Enoch walked with God," — terms of large import, and which, when illustrated by the eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, where the faith of the patriarchs in the Divine order of creation is so extolled, are, to say the least, entirely consistent with the observation of a day of religious worship. We come to the flood. Sixteen centuries have elapsed since the institution of the weekly rest. And now we find the reckoning by weeks familiarly referred to as the ordinary division of time. The Lord said unto Noah, "Yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth." And again, "It came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the food were upon the earth." These passages occur in the seventh chapter. Nothing can be more certain than that the return of seven days brought something peculiar with it; and we judge it probable, from the institution of the Sabbath, that that peculiarity was the day of sacred rest. Accordingly after the flood, the tradition of that division of time spread over all the eastern world — Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Arabians, Persians, unite with the Israelites in retaining vestiges of it. In the earliest remains of the heathen writers, Hesiod, Homer, Callimachus — the sanctity of the seventh day is referred to as a matter of notoriety. Philo, the Jew, declares that there was no nation under heaven where the opinion had not reached. But we come to the history of Abraham. Here it is deserving notice, as we pass, that the rite of circumcision was to be performed after the lapse of seven days from the birth; but the commendation of Abraham's example, "That he commanded his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment," implies that there was a way prescribed by the Almighty, and certain observances in which consisted justice and judgment, amongst which the Sabbath was probably the chief. But in the more fall declaration afterwards made concerning him to Isaac; "That Abraham obeyed His voice, and kept His charge, His commandments, His statutes, and His laws"; the terms employed are so various as to be by no means naturally interpreted of the ordinances of circumcision and sacrifice only, but to include, as much as if it were named, the charge and law of the Sabbath. We come to Jacob; and few, I think, can doubt that when he uttered the devout exclamation, "This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven"; and then vowed that the "stone should be God's house" — he alluded to what was customary with the pious patriarchs, the worship of God in a stated place, and on a stated time — the Sabbath; without which a house of God would be a term of little meaning; but with which it would indeed be the pledge and anticipation of heaven. Even Laban seems to have had the notion of a weekly division of time, "Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also." But I will not dwell on more particulars. The numerous, the almost perpetual notices of places, of altars, of sacrifices, of the worship of God, of solemn titles given to particular spots, all confirm the supposition, which is the only reasonable one, that the sabbatical institution was not unknown to the patriarchs. We may notice the case of holy Job, as confirming this, who, remote as was the place of his abode, more than once reminds us of "a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord."
IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE SABBATH WAS REVIVED AND RE-ESTABLISHED BEFORE THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE MOSAICAL ECONOMY, proves that it was a previous institution, which had never been entirely lost; and therefore confirms all we stated of its origin in Paradise and its continuance during the patriarchal ages.
1. Let us, then, first, in applying this part of our subject, observe, the extreme violence which is done to the Christian faith, when any important fact in the Scriptures, such as the institution of the Sabbath in Paradise, is attempted to be explained away by the fancy of man.
2. Yes, come with me before we close this discourse and let us adore and praise the Almighty Father of all for the distinct glories shed upon the day of religious repose. Come and praise Him for condescending to imprint its first enactment, and the reasons on which it is grounded, on the six days' creative wonders. Come, glorify your God and Father. He bids you rest, but it is after His own example. He bids you labour, but it is after His pattern. Imitate the Supreme Architect. Work in the order in which He worked, cease when He was pleased to cease. Let the day of religion, after each six days' toil, be to you a blessed and a sanctified season. Plead the promise attached to the Sabbath: it is blessed of God, it is sanctified of God, it is hallowed of God. Implore forgiveness of your past neglect. Let no Sabbath henceforth leave you without having sought the blessing promised and performed the duties to which it is dedicated. Let your devout meditation on the glories of creation swell the choir of your Maker's praise. Join "the sons of God" in their joys and songs at the birth of the universe.
(D. Wilson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.