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  • Free Grace Friday: Anticipating God’s Rest

    Free Grace Fridays

    Free Grace Friday is a weekly post sharing updates and book excerpts from Free Grace Press. Each Friday we will be posting news about FGP books, featuring excerpts, and most exciting for you, telling you how you can get access to great sales on biblically solid, Christ-honoring resources from FGP.

    What is the Lord’s Day?

    Book Cover - Theology and Celebration of the Lord's Day

    Our featured book this week is Anticipating God’s Rest: Theology and Celebration of the Lord’s Day by Michael Seewald. In his introduction, Seewald notes,

    “The meeting of the Church on Sundays is now a matter of convenience rather than a matter of conviction. This has led many Christians to devalue the day to such an extent that often, shopping, sports, and recreation displace the worship of God. What the Puritans dubbed “the market day of the soul” has now become for many just a plain old market day.”

    Jeffrey Johnson says of Seewald’s work,

    “This is the best and most balanced treatment of the Lord’s Day I have read. Michael Seewald holds up the Lord’s Day as something in which to take delight—something lovely and beautiful. Most importantly, Michael stirs up the reader’s affection, appreciation, and thankfulness for the rest we have in Christ. His balanced exposition of the Lord’s Day will cause those who love Christ to not only look forward to Sunday worship, but to the great Day of the Lord when we will forever rest from our labors.”

    You can grab this book for just $10! This would be an excellent resource to read through with a group or Sunday School Class. Perhaps you would like to understand the Lord’s Day better, or you would like to introduce someone else to this important truth. This would be a great read to begin your summer.

    Also, you can enter to win a copy of Anticipating God’s Rest at the end of this post. One giveaway winner will be selected Saturday at 12pm CDT. Note: We are not able to ship the giveaway book to addresses outside of the United States.

    Enjoy this brief excerpt from the end of Chapter 1 of Anticipating God’s Rest below and then go buy a copy for yourself and a friend as you grow in your love for and appreciation of the Lord’s Day!

    Is the Sabbath a Moral or Positive Law?

    Now, the question that naturally arises is, is the Sabbath a moral or a positive commandment? I propose that the Sabbath is a moral commandment, with positive stipulations differing according to which covenant it has reference to. This idea that the Sabbath is moral with positive stipulations is not a unique position, but one articulated in the great seventeenth century confessions, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, showing the unity of the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Particular Baptists at that time pertaining to this matter. The wording is borrowed from the Westminster Confession and it appears in the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

    “As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.”[1]

    Notice that they call the Sabbath a law of nature indicating that they believed it to be part of the moral law. We can expect that if the framers of this confession are correct, and the Sabbath is a moral law, then there will be some knowledge of it in conscience which should evidence itself by how people order their lives. What can be known naturally about the Sabbath is that time must be set apart for rest, and the worship of God.

    There is ample historical evidence that many ancient cultures observed some sort of weekly cycle with holy days for worship and rest. Among these are the ancient Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. This is confirmation that the Sabbath principle is in the conscience, and these cultures conformed in some way to that knowledge. Consider this quotation from The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal about the Babylonian Sabbath:

    “There would seem to be hardly any doubt that the seventh and fifteenth days of the month were lunar periods and referred to the Semitic-Babylonian story of the creation. The fifth tablet describes how Merodach set in order the heavenly bodies and fixed the path and the phases of the moon. The reason for the selection of the fifteenth day as the Sabbath of the Babylonians can be explained because the moon rests at the full at the middle of the month, and the “Heart Rest Day” would have been a “mid-rest day.” The Assyro-Babylonian word for Sabbath—namely: Sabattu, has been known, and the explanation, “gave rest for the heart,” has been frequently quoted. Mr. Theopholis G. Pinches has an article in the “Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archeology,” February 10, 1904, on this subject. He says that considerable discussion has been aroused in consequence of it. From Prof. Delitzsch’s remarks upon the Sabbath in Babylonia, it will appear that the Sumero Accadians numbered their days straight on from one to thirty, as did also the Babylonians after them. “The seventh day, the fourteenth day, the twenty-first and the twenty-eighth were fast days of Merodach. The shepherd of the great people shall not eat flesh cooked by fire, he shall not change the dress of his body, he shall not put on white, he shall not make an offering. The king shall not ride in his chariot, the priestess shall not declare a divine decision, a seer shall not make an oracle in a secret spot. A physician shall not lay his hand on a sick man: the day is unsuitable for doing business. The king shall bring his offering in the night: he shall make a sacrifice before Merodach and Istar: his prayer is acceptable to God.”[2]

    Though we cannot know for sure how or when this practice began among the ancient Babylonians, there is no doubt that their Sabbath had both the concepts of rest and worship, which gives credence to the idea that this principle of the Sabbath bears witness in the conscience of men and evidences itself to be part of natural or moral law.

    Going back to the citation of the London Baptist Confession of 1689, it continues by saying that this principle of the Sabbath was specifically enunciated in Scripture as “a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment.” The writers of the confession believed it to be a law of nature and moral, partly because it is built into creation by God’s own pattern of working six days and resting one, and thereby a creation ordinance[3], and because of its position in the Ten Commandments which they believed to be an expression of the moral law. They believed it to be a positive law in that God specified a particular day and manner in which it was to be kept in the Mosaic Covenant and that God changed the day and manner of the Sabbath for the people of God in the New Covenant.[4]

    Now, let’s turn our attention to the Ten Commandments and their place in the law of God. The Sabbath appears in the Ten Commandments as the fourth commandment and these were engraved in stone by the finger of God himself and delivered to Moses as the foundational law of the Old Covenant. It is significant that God distinguished these Ten Commandments by personally writing them unlike all other revelation he gave to men. Though he gave these commandments as the principle document of the Mosaic Covenant, it is clear by reading them that these Ten Commandments stand out as a cohesive summary of the whole law.

    Even the positive laws of both the Old and New Testaments find a place under these great commandments as applications or responses to violations. For instance, the second commandment to not make or worship God by graven images is teaching how we are not to worship God.[5] This commandment is stated in negative form but it implies a moral duty to worship God and only in the manner he himself specifies.[6] The manner of worship under the Old Covenant looks different from the manner of worship under the New Covenant, but this commandment applies to both. The positive laws of Old Testament worship such as the Levitical priesthood, animal sacrifices, special washings, etc. look back to the second commandment as their basis just as baptism and the Lord’s supper are New Covenant positive laws that also have the second commandment as their moral basis. The second commandment implies the regulative principle of worship, and the manner of worship in each Testament looks different according to God’s own appointment.

    The same is true of the fourth commandment. The principle of the Sabbath is a moral law. Time must be set aside to rest from our labor and worship God. Though the positive commandments of the day and manner of honoring the Sabbath differ under the Mosaic and New Covenants, there is nonetheless a moral requirement in which they both find their origin. We will discuss the moral basis of the Sabbath in more detail later, but it is worth noting now, that the Sabbath principle was introduced by divine example in the very creation of the world as a foundational truth, and just because God added positive commandments and a penalty under the Mosaic covenant does not mean that the Sabbath principle vanishes under the New Covenant.

    To summarize, the two principles that help us discern what to do with the laws given in the Old Covenant are: (1) that the Mosaic Covenant has passed away and Christians are now under the New Covenant, and (2) because the Mosaic Covenant has passed away, only the moral laws of the Old Covenant (which are unchanging) are binding upon members of the New Covenant. In the next chapter, I am going to expand upon the differences between the covenants.


    [1] London Baptist Confession of 1689, Chapter 22, Paragraph 7.

    [2] J. O. Kinnaman, Peet, S. D. (Stephen Denison) The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal. (Chicago: Jameson & Morse, 1878), 181.

    [3] The concept of creation ordinances is discussed in chapter 3.

    [4] Samuel E. Waldron A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, UK: Evangelical Press, 2013), 336-337.

    [5] Exodus 20:4-5.

    [6] Leviticus 10:1-2 This passage illustrates the principle that what is not commanded in the worship of God is forbidden.