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THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT. THE PERPETUITY OF THE SABBATH.
EXODUS XX. 8-11.-Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
THE Command, which is given us in this passage of Scripture, requires no explanation. I shall, therefore, proceed immediately to the consideration of the great subject, which it presents to our view, under the following heads:
I. The Perpetual Establishment of the Sabbath: and
II. The Manner, in which it is to be observed.
I. I shall endeavour to prove the Perpetual Establishment of the Sabbath in the Scriptures.
This subject I propose to consider at length; and, in the course of my examination, shall attempt to offer direct proof of its Perpetuity, and then to answer Objections.
In direct proof of the Perpetuity of this institution I allege,
1. The Text.
Now it is
The text is one of the commands of the Moral Law. acknowledged, that the Moral Law is, in the most universal sense, binding on men of every age, and every country. If, then, this command be a part of that Law; all mankind must be under immoveable obligations to obey the injunctions, which it contains.
That it is a part of the Moral Law I argue from the fact, that it is united with the other commands, which are acknowledged to be of this nature. It is twice placed in the midst of the decalogue; in the context, and in the fifth of Deuteronomy. This fact, you will remember, was the result of design, and not of accident: a design, formed and executed by God himself, and not by Moses.
I argue it, also, from the fact, that this command, together with the remaining nine, was spoken with an awful and audible voice from the midst of the thunders, and lightnings, which enveloped Mount Sinai. The splendour and Majesty of this scene were such, that all the people, who were in the camp, trembled. And when they saw the thunderings, and lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they removed, and stood afar off: and said unto Moses, Speak thou with us; and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die. Even Moses himself exceedingly feared and quaked.
I argue this doctrine also from the fact that this command was written by the finger of God, on one of the two tables of stone, originally prepared by himself, and destined to contain nothing, but this and the other precepts of the Decalogue. It was afterwards written again by the same hand, after these tables were broken, on one of two similar tables, prepared by Moses. A table of stone, and a pillar of stone, were, in ancient times, direct symbols of the perpetuity of whatever was engraved on them. This very natural symbol God was pleased to adopt in the present case, to show the perpetual obligation of these commands. The remainder of the law, given by Moses, was all written in a book; and was here intentionally, and entirely distinguished, as to its importance, from the Decalogue. The tables of stone on which these commands were written, were fashioned by the hand of God himself. This also, forms a peculiar article of distinction between the Decalogue, and the rest of the Jewish law. Nothing but the Decalogue ever received such an honour, as this. It was written on one of these tables by the finger of God. This also is a distinction peculiar to the Decalogue.
When Moses, in his zeal to destroy the idolatry of the Israelites, had broken the two tables of stone, fashioned and written upon in this manner; God directed him to make two other tables of stone, like the first. On these he was pleased to write the same commands a second time. In this act he has taught us, that he was pleased to become, a second time, the recorder of these precepts with his own hand, rather than that the entire distinction between these precepts, and others, should be obliterated.
Every part of this solemn transaction, it is to be remembered, was the result of contrivance and design; of contrivance and design, on the part of God himself. Every part of it, therefore, speaks a language, which is to be examined, and interpreted, by us. Now let me ask, whether this language is not perfectly intelligible, and perfectly unambiguous. Is it not clear beyond every rational debate, that God designed to distinguish these precepts from every other part of the Mosaic law, both as to their superior importance, and their perpetuity? Is it not incredible, that God should mark, in so solemn a manner, this command, together with the remaining nine, unless he intended, that all, to whom these precepts should come, that is, all Jews and Christians, or all who should afterwards read the Scriptures, should regard these Commands as possessing that very importance, which he thus significantly gave them; should consider them as being, in a peculiar sense, his law; hold them as being perpetually, and universally, obligatory?
It is further to be remembered, that this command is delivered in the same absolute manner, as the other nine. There is no limitation to the phraseology, in which it is contained. Honour thy father and thy mother, is obligatory on all children, to whom this precept shall come. Thou shalt not steal, is a precept, prohibiting the
stealing of every man, who shall know it. Every Gentile, as well as every Jew, who sinneth under the law, will, according to the spirit of the Apostle's declaration, be judged by the law. Agreeably to this equitable construction, every person, to whom this precept shall come, is bound to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
But it is acknowledged, that "all the remaining commands are indeed universally obligatory; being in their own nature moral, and having therefore an universal application to mankind. This, however, is plainly a Command merely positive, and therefore destitute of this universality of application. It may, of course, be dispensed with; may be supposed to have been delivered to the Jews only, like their ceremonial and judicial law; may have been destined to continue, so long as their national state continued; and, thus may have been designed to be of neither universal, nor perpetual, obligation."
To this objection, which I have stated at full length, that I might be sure of doing justice to it, I give the following answer.
First; it appears to me evident, that, so far as my information extends, the distinction between moral and positive commands has been less clearly made by moral writers, than most other distinctions. It will be impossible for any man clearly to see, and to limit, exactly, what they intend when they use these terms. To remove this difficulty, so far as my audience are concerned, and to enable them to know what I design, while I am using these words, I will attempt to define them with some particularity.
A moral precept, is one, which regulates the moral conduct of Intelligent creatures, and binds the will and the conscience. It is either limited, or universal: it is universal; or, in other words, is obligatory on the consciences of Intelligent creatures, at all times, and in all circumstances, when their situations and relations are universally such, as to render the conduct required in these precepts their duty invariably, and in the nature of things. Of this kind, the number of precepts is certainly very small. We are bound to love God, and our neighbour, invariably. But the fifth command, in its obvious sense, can have no application, where the relations of parent and child do not exist; the sixth, where rational beings are immortal; the seventh, where the distinction of sex is not found. To these precepts, therefore, the criterion of universality, generally regarded as the principal mark of the moral nature of precepts, is plainly inapplicable; and it is altogether probable, that these precepts will have no existence in any world, but this. Limited moral precepts are those, which require the duties, arising from such relations and circumstances, as exist only for limited periods, or among certain classes or divisions of Rational beings. Thus various moral precepts found in the judicial law of Moses obligated to obedience none but the people of that nation, and strangers dwelling among them. Thus, also, he, who has no parents, is not required to perform the duties, enjoined upon a
child; he, who has no wife, those required of a husband; and he, who has no children, those demanded of a father.
Positive precepts are such, as require conduct of moral beings, which, antecedently to the promulgation of them, was not their duty; and, independently of them, would never have become their duty; but would have remained for ever a matter of indifference. It ought to be observed here, that some precepts are considered as merely positive, because the duties, enjoined by them, were unknown, and would have continued unknown, to those, of whom they are required, independently of the publication of the precepts. These precepts, however, are no less of a moral nature, than if the duties, which they enjoin, and the relations from which those duties spring, had always been perfectly known. A precept of a merely positive nature creates a duty, which, but for the precept, would not exist; which does not depend for its existence on the nature of the relations, sustained by the subject as a Rational being; but is intended to promote some useful, incidental purpose, and is not due, nor demanded from the subject in other cases, although sustaining exactly the same relations. Thus the precept, requiring the building of booths at the passover, may be considered as a positive precept. Thus also many others, enjoining particular parts of the Jewish ritual.
Secondly; The precept contained in the text is according to these definitions a moral, and not a positive, precept. The Sabbath was instituted for the following ends.
It was intended to give the laborious classes of mankind an opportunity of resting from toil.
It was intended to be a commemoration of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God in the Creation of the universe.
It was intended to furnish an opportunity of increasing holiness in man, while in a state of innocence.
It was intended to furnish an opportunity to fallen man of acquiring holiness, and of obtaining salvation.
In every one of these respects, the Sabbath is equally useful. important, and necessary, to every child of Adam. It was no more necessary to a Jew to rest after the labour of six days was ended, than to any other man. It was no more necessary to a Jew to commemorate the perfections of God, displayed in the work of creation; it was no more necessary to a Jew to gain holiness, or to increase it; it is no more necessary to a Jew to seek, or to obtain, salvation. Whatever makes either of these things interesting to a Jew in any degree, makes them in the same degree interesting to every other man. The nature of the command, therefore, teaches, as plainly as the nature of a command can teach, that it is of universal application to mankind. It has then this great criterion of a moral precept: viz. universality of appli
That it is the duty of all men to commemorate the perfections of God, displayed in the work of creation, cannot be questioned. Every living man is bound to contemplate, understand, and adore, these perfections. But we cannot know them in the abstract; or as they exist merely in Him. We learn them, only as displayed in his Works, and in his Word. We are bound, therefore, to learn them, as thus displayed; and that in proportion to the clearness. and glory of the display. The clearness and glory, with which these perfections are manifested in the work of creation, are transcendently great; and demand from all creatures a contemplation proportionally attentive, and an adoration proportionally exalted. To commemorate this glorious work, therefore, is a plain and important duty of all men: this being the peculiar service demanded of them by his character, and his relation to them as their Creator. But this commemoration was the original and supreme object of the command. It cannot be denied, that this is a moral service ;. nor that the precept requiring it, is a moral precept.
To perform this service in the best manner, is also, as much a moral duty, as to perform it at all. If any duty be not performed in the best manner; it is only performed in part: the remainder being of course omitted. But no words can be necessary to prove, that we are equally obliged to perform one part of a duty as another.
If we know not, and cannot know, the best manner; we are invariably bound to choose the best which we do know. If, however, the best manner be made known to us; we are invariably obliged to adopt it, to the exclusion of all others.
The best manner, in the present case, is made known to us in this Command. We are assured, that it is the best manner, by the fact, that God has chosen it. No man can doubt whether God's manner is the best; nor whether it is his own duty to adopt it rather than any other. This manner is a commemoration of the perfections of God, thus disclosed, on one day in
That a particular day, or set time, should be devoted to this important purpose, is indispensable. The duty is a social one; in which the Rational creatures of God, in this world, are universally to unite. But unless a particular day were set apart for this duty, the union intended would be impossible.
It is of the last importance, that the day should be appointed by GOD. Men would not agree on any particular day. If they should agree, it would always be doubtful whether the time chosen by them was the best; and the day appointed by men, would have neither authority, sacredness, nor sanction. In a matter, merely of human institution, all, who pleased, would dissent; and in such a world as ours, most, or all, would choose to dissent. The whole duty, therefore, would be left undone; and the glorious perfections of God, unfolded in the work of Creation, would be