In Defense of Ten Commandments::The Perpetual Mandate of Sabbath Observance
Joseph D. McPherson
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2016. Volume 34.
Date Posted June, 2016
The ten commandments are acknowledged to be the backbone of Old Testament moral law and thus to be honored and obeyed in all dispensations, including our own. Four voices from Scripture have made the meaning and duty of honoring the Sabbath clearer and more understandable. While others could be cited, we wish to focus on Moses the lawgiver, Nehemi-ah the post-exilic governor of Judah, Isaiah the prophet, and Christ Jesus, our ultimate lawgiver and final Judge.
"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exod 20:8) was, as we all know, one often commandments written by the finger of God on stone and delivered by Moses. In that particular context, keeping the Sabbath day holy was expressly applied to the ceasing of physical labor normally carried out the other six days of the week.
Nehemiah, governor of Judah, following the Jews return from exile, forbad the treading of wine presses on the Sabbath, together with the business of trade and commerce in and around the gates of Jerusalem.
The prophet Isaiah, however, expands further our understanding of what God expects of us concerning Sabbath day activity. Fully in-spired of God, the prophet wrote: "If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then you shall take a delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isa. 58:13-14 ESV).
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes very clear what our attitude to the moral law should be: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-19 ESV).
In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, John Wesley renders verse 19 thus: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of the least ofthese commandments, and teach men so, shall be the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, shall be great in the kingdom of heaven." The words, "one of the least of these commandments" he observes to be any "so accounted by men."Those who "shall be least in the kingdom of heaven" he understands to be those who in reality "shall have no part therein."
Jesus faced much criticism and censor from the scribes and Pharisees while repeatedly healing the sick and crippled on the Sabbath and even defended his disciples when they did what was necessary for the satisfying of bodily hunger and necessary sustenance. In accordance with Jesus' teachings and Scripture in general, we are to understand, therefore, that the Sabbath or Lord's Day is to be set aside for rest from the common labor and business of the week while giving ourselves to activities and pursuit of worship, duties of necessity and duties of mercy.
Rev. John Fletcher was the esteemed Vicar of Madeley, England, in the eighteenth century and well-recognized apologist for early Methodist teachings. In his Checks to Antinomianism he has likened the church to a ship endeavoring to navigate the straits between two rocks of error. The rock on the left he identified as Pharisaism, one scriptural example being the "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:9). The rock on the right he identified as Antinomianism, scripturally defined as "[making] void the law though faith" (Rom. 3:31). Again and again he makes the point that throughout its history, the church has found it perilously difficult to avoid these two extremes and was repeatedly found crashing on one or the other of these rocks while endeavoring to navigate the narrow straits. Antinomianism, which means "against law" or "lawlessness," was a common characteristic of Calvinists in Fletcher's day, who minimized the observance of all moral law. By way of reproof, he wrote: "Instead ... of dressing up the [moral law] as a scarecrow, let us in our degree 'magnify it, and make it honorable,' as did our Lord. Instead of representing it as 'an intolerable yoke of bondage,' let us call it, with St. Paul, 'the law of Christ;' and, with St. James, 'the perfect law of liberty.'And," continues Fletcher, "let every true believer say, with David, 'I love thy commandments above gold and precious stones: I shall keep thy law, forever and ever; I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts.'"
Whether the church crashes against the rock on the right or that on the left, disastrous results will inevitably be the same. True evangelical faith that brings life to the human soul and church body will be found no longer to exist. How, then, is safe navigation to be made through the straits between Pharisaism and Antinomianism? While eschewing the role of those who "teach for doctrines the commandments of men," let us embrace a life of loving the moral law, the law of Christ and law of love. Remember, it is Jesus who reminds all his followers: "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).