Guard the Lord’s Day and Treasure Its Blessings

Last week, in connection with the world’s great sacrilege of God’s Sabbath Day, the Log College Press posted excerpts from two Presbyterians from the past under the heading, “Not ‘Superbowl’ Sunday, but the Lord’s Day, or the Christian Sabbath.” The first voice is that of Samuel Miller, who had this to say in connection with the best name for NT Christians to use for the first day of the week:

“First, let us hear Samuel Miller, the great defender of historic Presbyterianism from Princeton, who authored an 1836 article titled “The Most Suitable Name For the Christian Sabbath.” After addressing the objection of Quakers to the word “Sunday” (they believed the fourth commandment was abrogated and preferred to use the phrase “the first day of the week”), Miller turned his attention to the pagan origin of the term “Sunday.” After discussion of the history of the Christian observance of the first day of the week and its relationship to the Jewish Sabbath and the pagan Sunday, Miller sums up his position in a few succinct paragraphs:

We are now prepared to answer the question, “What name ought to be given to this weekly season of sacred rest, by us, at the present day?”

Sunday, we think, is not the most suitable name. It is, confessedly, of Pagan origin. This, however, alone, would not be sufficient to support our opinion. All the other days of the week are equally Pagan, and we are not prepared to plead any conscientious scruples about their use. Still it seems to be in itself desirable that not only a significant, but a scriptural name should be attached to that day which is divinely appointed; which is so important for keeping religion alive in our world; and which holds so conspicuous a place in the language of the Church of God. Besides, we have seen that the early Christians preferred a scriptural name, and seldom or never used the title of Sunday, excepting when they were addressing the heathen, who knew the day by no other name. For these reasons we regret that the name Sunday has ever obtained so much currency in the nomenclature of Christians, and would discourage its popular use as far as possible.

The Lord’s day, is a title which we would greatly prefer to every other. It is a name expressly given to the day by an inspired apostle. It is more expressive than any other title of its divine appointment; of the Lord’s propriety in it; and of its reference to his resurrection, his triumph, and the glory of his kingdom. And, what is in no small degree interesting, we know that this was the favourite title of early Christians; the title which has been habitually used, for a number of centuries, by the great majority both of the Romish and Protestant communions. Would that its restoration to the Christian Church, and to all Christian intercourse, could be universal!

The Sabbath, is the last title of which we shall speak. The objections made to this title by the early Christians no longer exist. We are no longer in danger of confounding the observance of the first day of the week with that of the seventh. Nor are we any longer in danger of being carried away by a fondness for Jewish rigour, in our plan for its sanctification. The fourth commandment still makes a part of the Decalogue. We teach it to our children as a rule still in force. It requires nothing austere, punctilious, or excessive; only that we, and all “within our gates,” abstain from servile labour, and consider the day as “hallowed,” or devoted to God. Whoever scrutinizes its contents will find no requisition in which all Christians are not substantially agreed; and no reason assigned for its observance which does not apply to Gentiles as well as Jews. As the first sabbath was so named as a memorial of God’s “rest” from the work of creation; so we may consider the Christian Sabbath as a memorial of the Saviour’s rest (if the expression may be allowed) from the labours, the sufferings, and the humiliation of the work of redemption. And, what is no less interesting, the apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, considers the Sabbath as an emblem and memorial of that eternal Sabbatism, or “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Surely the name is a most appropriate and endeared one when we regard it in this connection! Surely when we bring this name to the test of either philological or theological principles, it is as suitable now, as it could have been under the old dispensation.

The second voice is that of Thomas L. Slater, a later Reformed Presbyterian minister, who also echoed Miller’s call for the use of the name “Lord’s Day” for the Sabbath (first day of the week). About his sentiments and those of a Presbyterian Church General Assembly, they write:

“Slater, like Miller, in the vein of Puritans before them who were sometimes known derisively as “Precisionists,” argued for expressions of thought grounded in Biblical principle, especially in a matter which Presbyterians of an earlier time viewed the importance of the Sabbath in its relation to both to the church and to civil society. It was not long before the first “Superbowl Sunday” was held in 1967 that the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) issued this relevant warning:

Let us beware brethren: As goes the Sabbath, so goes the church, as goes the church, so goes the nation [emphasis added]. Any people who neglect the duties and privileges of the Sabbath day soon lose the knowledge of true religion and become pagan. If men refuse to retain God in their knowledge; God declares that He will give them over to a reprobate mind. Both history and experience confirm this truth” (Minutes of the Sixty-First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, A.D. 1948, p. 183).

And from my latest ‘easy’ read, Last Summer Boys (a well written historical novel set in the summer of 1968) comes this related excerpt about what used to be a regular part of American life:

Sunday morning our family piles into the Ford and Dad drives us into town for church.

New Shiloh Lutheran sits at the town’s edge, white wooden boards blazing in morning sun under a steeple that tilts like a scarecrow’s hat toward the ocean of corn that surrounds it. Wind moves among the stalks as we pull up, making waves that lap the walls of the church like water against the hull of a ship. And it reminds me how Pastor Fenton said one time the church was a ship: seas could swell and rise against it, but it could never sink, and neither would you so long as you kept inside it.

We pass under the steeple’s shadow, through the double doors, and into a creaky wooden pew. All around us, people fan themselves with paper song sheets so that the whole church seems full of giant white butterflies furiously flapping their wings.

Pastor Fenton reads a bit from the Bible and I try hard to listen close, but my button-down shirt clings to me like a second skin. Ma’s eyes flash John Thomas, stop your fidgeting or else, and that settles me long enough to catch some of Pastor Fenton’s sermon on redemption. With a voice that’s surprisingly powerful for how small a man he is, he tells us nobody is beyond God’s love, no matter what they’ve done, and thinking otherwise is a dangerous kind of pride.

Published in: on February 18, 2023 at 7:56 PM  Leave a Comment