Saturday, March 11, 2017

Wesley's Sunday Sabbath Keeping

John Wesley
Since the earliest days of the church, immediately following the resurrection, the Church has been meeting for worship on the first day of the week (Joh 20:19; Ac 20:7-8; 1 Cor 16:2), and the apostles recognized the first day of the week as the Lord's Day. For example, the apostle John wrote, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10), which is a reference to his worship on the first day of the week. Although some who believe in Saturday sabbath teach that the expression used in this verse refers to the seventh day, that view contradicts the evidence from early Christian writers that wrote in the days immediately following the apostles. Dr. Stephen Flick has written an article containing quotes from those writers, called Sunday Worship or the Lord’s Day in the Early Christianityproving that "the Lord's Day" was always synonymous with the first day of the week.

As I mentioned in my previous article, Famous Christian Sabbath Observers, John Wesley was a famous preacher who kept the Christian Sabbath. I read a comment made by a reader of one of his sermons posted online about the Sabbath, in which the reader wondered why the Methodists worship on Sunday, since their founder Wesley was a Sabbath keeper. The reason is that he believed Sunday was the Sabbath day of the New Covenant, and it is clearly evident throughout his journals that he kept the Lord's Day holy. This can easily be proven by doing a search on the word "Sunday" in his journals posted online.

One of John Wesley's favorite Bible commentators was Matthew Henry (October 18, 1662 – June 20, 1714), who was a Nonconformist minister and author, born in Wales but spending much of his life in England. Incidentally, Henry happens to be my favorite Bible commentator, as well. John Wesley was a great preacher, teacher, evangelist and the founder of Methodism. He was born June 17, 1703 in Epworth, England. In his own commentary of the Bible, John Wesley's Explanatory Notes, he often quoted Henry without using quotes or crediting Henry. He shared many of the same views as Henry, just as I do. So my beliefs are very much in harmony with both of these men. For the sake of today's topic, let's look particularly at the commentaries of these two men on the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8, in order to understand what they believed about the sabbath. The Scripture says:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [a]stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy." (Ex 20:8-12).

Matthew Henry John Wesley
The fourth commandment concerns the time of worship. God is to be served and honoured daily, but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honour and spent in his service. The fourth commandment concerns the time of worship; God is to be served and honoured daily; but one day in seven is to be particularly dedicated to his honour, and spent in his service.
It is taken for granted that the sabbath was instituted before; we read of God's blessing and sanctifying a seventh day from the beginning (Gen_2:3), so that this was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of an old law. It is taken for granted that the sabbath was instituted before. We read of God's blessing and sanctifying a seventh day from the beginning, Gen_2:3, so that this was not the enacting of a new law, but the reviving of an old law.
They are told what is the day they must religiously observe - a seventh, after six days' labour; whether this was the seventh by computation from the first seventh, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain:  They are told what is the day, they must observe, a seventh after six days labour, whether this was the seventh by computation from the first seventh, or from the day of their coming out of Egypt, or both, is not certain. 
How it must be observed. First, As a day of rest; they were to do no manner of work on this day in their callings or worldly business.  How it must be observed; As a day of rest; they were to do no manner of work on this day, in their worldly business. 
As a holy day, set apart to the honour of the holy God, and to be spent in holy exercises. God, by blessing it, had made it holy; they, by solemnly blessing him, must keep it holy, and not alienate it to any other purpose than that for which the difference between it and other days was instituted. As a holy day, set apart to the honour of the holy God, and to be spent in holy exercises. God, by his blessing it, had made it holy; they, by solemn blessing him, must keep it holy, and not alienate it to any other purpose than that for which the difference between it and other days was instituted.
Who must observe it: Thou, and thy son, and thy daughter; the wife is not mentioned, because she is supposed to be one with the husband and present with him, and, if he sanctify the sabbath, it is taken for granted that she will join with him; but the rest of the family are specified. Children and servants must keep the sabbath, according to their age and capacity: in this, as in other instances of religion, it is expected that masters of families should take care, not only to serve the Lord themselves, but that their houses also should serve him, at least that it may not be through their neglect if they do not, Jos_24:15.
Even the proselyted strangers must observe a difference between this day and other days, which, if it laid some restraint upon them then, yet proved a happy indication of God's gracious purpose, in process of time, to bring the Gentiles into the church, that they might share in the benefit of sabbaths. Compare Isa_56:6, Isa_56:7. Even the proselyted strangers must observe a difference between this day and other days, which, if it laid some restraint upon them then, yet proved a happy indication of God's gracious design, to bring the Gentiles into the church.
God takes notice of what we do, particularly what we do on sabbath days, though we should be where we are strangers. By the sanctification of the sabbath, the Jews declared that they worshipped the God that made the world, and so distinguished themselves from all other nations, who worshipped gods which they themselves made.
A particular memorandum put upon this duty: Remember it. It is intimated that the sabbath was instituted and observed before; but in their bondage in Egypt they had lost their computation, or were restrained by their task-masters, or, through a great degeneracy and indifference in religion, they had let fall the observance of it, and therefore it was requisite they should be reminded of it. A late pious Writer seems to prove, That the sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt; which change continued till our Lord rose again: But that then the Original Sabbath was restored. And he makes it highly probable, at least, That the sabbath we observe, is the seventh day from the creation.
Note, Neglected duties remain duties still, notwithstanding our neglect. It also intimates that we are both apt to forget it and concerned to remember it. Some think it denotes the preparation we are to make for the sabbath; we must think of it before it comes, that, when it does come, we may keep it holy, and do the duty of it.
The reasons of this command. [1.] We have time enough for ourselves in those six days, on the seventh day let us serve God; and time enough to tire ourselves, on the seventh it will be a kindness to us to be obliged to rest.
This is God's day: it is the sabbath of the Lord thy God, not only instituted by him, but consecrated to him. It is sacrilege to alienate it; the sanctification of it is a debt.[3.] It is designed for a memorial of the creation of the world, and therefore to be observed to the glory of the Creator, as an engagement upon ourselves to serve him and an encouragement to us to trust in him who made heaven and earth. By the sanctification of the sabbath, the Jews declared that they worshipped the God that made the world, and so distinguished themselves from all other nations, who worshipped gods which they themselves made.
God has given us an example of rest, after six days' work: he rested the seventh day, took a complacency in himself, and rejoiced in the work of his hand, to teach us, on that day, to take a complacency in him, and to give him the glory of his works, Psa_92:4. God has given us an example of rest after six days work; he rested the seventh day - Took a complacency in himself, and rejoiced in the work of his hand, to teach us on that day, to take a complacency in him, and to give him the glory of his works.
The sabbath began in the finishing of the work of creation, so will the everlasting sabbath in the finishing of the work of providence and redemption; and we observe the weekly sabbath in expectation of that, as well as in remembrance of the former, in both conforming ourselves to him we worship. The sabbath begun in the finishing of the work of creation; so will the everlasting sabbath in the finishing of the work of providence and redemption; and we observe the weekly sabbath in expectation of that, as well as in remembrance of the former, in both conforming ourselves to him we worship.
He has himself blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. He has put an honour upon it by setting it apart for himself; it is the holy of the Lord and honourable: and he has put blessings into it, which he has encouraged us to expect from him in the religious observance of that day. It is the day which the Lord hath made, He hath himself blessed the sabbath day and sanctified it. He hath put an honour upon it; it is holy to the Lord, and honourable; and he hath put blessings into it which he hath encouraged us to expect from him in the religious observation of that day.
let not us do what we can to unmake it. He has blessed, honoured, and sanctified it,
Let not us profane it, dishonour it, and level that with common time which God's blessing has thus dignified and distinguished. Let us not profane, dishonour, and level that with common time, which God's blessing hath thus dignified and distinguished.

As you can see, their views were very similar, if not identical. John Wesley practically copied and pasted everything Henry had to say about this topic.

Matthew Henry
I would like to draw particular attention to one comment that John Wesley made here. He said, "A late pious Writer seems to prove, That the sabbath was changed, when Israel came out of Egypt; which change continued till our Lord rose again: But that then the Original Sabbath was restored. And he makes it highly probable, at least, That the sabbath we observe, is the seventh day from the creation." Wesley believed that the sabbath we observe on Sunday is the true seventh day from creation, if you were to compute the day back to the original week of creation. He mentions a "late pious Writer" as his reason for believing this. Since we know who his favorite Bible commentator was, and since his views on the sabbath were essentially identical to Henry's, we can assume that he was referring here to Henry.

In Henry's commentary, he stated: "A particular memorandum put upon this duty: Remember it. It is intimated that the sabbath was instituted and observed before; but in their bondage in Egypt they had lost their computation, or were restrained by their task-masters, or, through a great degeneracy and indifference in religion, they had let fall the observance of it, and therefore it was requisite they should be reminded of it."

Henry was saying that God commanded the Israelites to remember the sabbath, which implied that the sabbath already existed from the beginning, and had been observed at some point prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments. He cited three possible reasons why the Jews needed to be commanded to remember the sabbath. One possible reason was that while they were slaves in Egypt, they lost track of which day the sabbath occurred. Another possibility is that their task masters prevented them from keeping it holy. A third possibility is that they degenerated spiritually or became indifferent, and simply stopped observing it. It seems certain that one of these three would have happened, and that is why Wesley says that this "pious Writer seems to prove that the sabbath was changed when Israel came out of Egypt."

The day on which the Jews observed the sabbath remained the same from the time of their wilderness wanderings until the time of Christ, although it was not the seventh day from the Creation. But then at our Lord's resurrection, which according to their calendar at that time was on the first day of the week, the original Sabbath was restored. At that point, God knew exactly which day the true sabbath should be kept, based on the computation of weeks dating back to the Creation. Wesley said that Henry made it very probable that now the sabbath we observe on Sundays is the actual seventh day from the creation. I believe this is very possible. In fact, it is quite probable, and is perhaps the best explanation I have ever heard. 

I also believe that God might have simply changed it so that instead of giving God the last day of the week, we now give Him the first day of the week in worship. Instead of resting after we have worked for six days, we rest on the first day before we begin our work week, as a reminder that now our whole life must be spent in a state of rest and trust in Him. It is also a reminder that we are not returning to observing the Law of Moses, or becoming Jewish, and by resting on the first day, it sets us apart. Likewise, since God created light on the first day of the week, we remember that Jesus is the Light. We are reminded to walk in the light as He is in the light. Just as He rose again from the dead on the first day of the week, we celebrate His resurrection on that day. We are reminded that if we have died with Christ, we will also live with Him (Ro 6:8).

In all likelihood, the explanation I have just given and the ones Henry gave are both correct. Not only was God restoring the original sabbath when Christ rose again, but He was also making all things new (Rev 21:5). This would be consistent with other things that God instituted with the New Covenant. Not only did He give us a New Covenant, (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8; Mt 26:28; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25), but He has also given us new wine, which flows from the Father in heaven by the Spirit (Mt 9:17). He also gave us a new life (Rom 6:4) and a new self (Col 3:10; Eph 4:24). 

Likewise, when Jesus instituted the New Covenant at the Last Supper, which took place on the Last Passover (Mt 26:17-20), He did not use lamb's meat as the emblem of his body. He used bread and wine, which was new symbolism. The bread represents his body, not lamb's meat, because He is the Lamb of God (Joh 1:29; Rev 6:16;17:14; 21:27; 22:3). Otherwise we would have to slaughter a lamb every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper, and He has not called us to return to animal sacrifices. He sacrificed His body once for all as the final sacrifice (Heb 7:27; 10:10,12). We now have a better sacrifice. When Jesus fulfilled the Passover, He changed it and gave us the Lord's Supper as a new ceremony instead, and said that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim His death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26). 

Moreover, instead of circumcision, we now have water baptism as the ceremony for those who decide to follow Jesus and become His disciples. Instead of this ceremony being done as a baby, eight days after birth, it is now done to newborn believers. "All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom 6:3-4).

Similarly, just as Jesus fulfilled the Passover and gave us a New Covenant with new elements, as well as water baptism to replace circumcision, so too, when He rose again, He gave us a new sabbath day of worship -- the Lord's Day. Since He is the Lord of the Sabbath, He has the authority to do this (Mt 12:8; Mk 2:28). Old things have passed away, and behold, all things have become new (2 Cor 5:17). While we must obey God's commandments, we do so according to the Spirit, rather than the letter. "We serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter" (Rom 7:6). Let this be an encouragement to us all to keep Sundays holy, just as Wesley, Henry, the first Christians, and the apostles did.

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB

Author's Note: If you enjoyed this message, you may also be interested in the other posts on this blog, available through the Home page, especially Resting from Work , Keeping Sundays Holy -- Part I, Keeping Sundays Holy - Part IIFamous Christian Sabbath Observers, and Christian Sabbath is Sunday, not Saturday. I also recommend reading David Wilkerson's message, Honoring the Sabbathwhich I discovered after writing this article, as well as Zipporah Mushala’s Second Testimony of Hell, in which she saw a man of God in hell for relying on His obedience to the Law to save him. You can also find my complete collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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