Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

The sabbath restored in Christ

When the Lord God had made all things he rested on the seventh day, and since man was made in the image of God and was adorned with the image of God, man was right and good, and without any sin.  If man had remained in this state, he would have rested with God.  But because man so soon transgressed God’s word, he at the same time was overtaken with unrest in body and soul.  Hence God commanded him to rest on the seventh day.  Man could not, however, return to his first or Edenic rest in body and soul, yet this rest day was to man a figure that a rest of both body and soul was awaiting mankind (Hebrews 4:4, 11).

But this sabbath or rest day for the soul had to be fulfilled by Jesus; and afterward also for the glorified body, when all things shall be fulfilled and restored.

Jesus went forth from the Father and came into the world, into the flesh, that he might by his flesh take away the enmity — the sin of the transgression of the law — and by his blood redeem man from the sin of Adam which had brought so much unrest to body and soul that man could not obtain rest (1 John 4:2; Ephesians 5:16).  He came and by the gospel proclaimed the peace of the kingdom of God; and by his suffering and death and resurrection, and by his gospel, rest was found for the soul (Matthew 11:29), and was obtained by coming to Jesus.   Jesus offered up sin, the enemy of the soul, by the sacrifice of his own body on the tree (Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus there is rest for the soul, the spiritual eternal sabbath that has no end; in Jesus this sabbath must be obtained.

By faith we receive Jesus, and by faith in Jesus we must make an end of the service of sin, our own sinful works, turn away from them and by faith in Jesus do the works meet for repentance; then the believer enters into the rest of the soul, the spiritual sabbath of the soul in Jesus, which Jesus has wrought in his own body on the tree.  Then the believer is in the day of salvation and the day of light (2 Corinthians 6:2; John 5:12; 11:9).  This is then the spiritual sabbath day for the soul of the believers, in which they shall rest and hallow in both soul and body from the works of sin.  This sabbath shall be hallowed by the praise of God in his word, by a holy life in the wedding garment of the Spirit (Revelation 19:7, 8; Jeremiah 17:21).  Then shall the believers not carry any burden of sin through the gates of Jerusalem, nor out of their houses on the holy sabbath.

The keeping of the sabbath by the believers in Israel consists in rest from the works of sin; and even if the believer through weakness or ignorance does a work of sin then comes in his sorrow and calls upon God through Christ, Jesus is the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:12).

The true believers shall hallow the fulfilled sabbath of the Lord and not knowingly or wilfully sin against the command of the Lord, either in the inward or the outward man.  The believers must strive to live holy in body and soul, that body and soul may obtain the future sabbath restored by Christ in the everlasting kingdom.  Consider well therefore the fulfillment of the sabbath by Christ and keep it as far as lies in your power.

[Excerpted from Restitution, written by Henry Funck, the first Mennonite bishop in North America.  Henry Funck died in 1760 and the book was first published in 1763 by his children.]

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