“Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance. We know from experience, that all who confide in their own strength, grow insolent through presumption, and at the same time, devoid of care, resign themselves to sleep. The remedy for both evils is when, distrusting ourselves, we depend entirely on God alone. And assuredly, that man has made decided progress in the knowledge, both of the grace of God, and of his own weakness, who, aroused from carelessness, diligently seeks God’s help.” (Commentary on Philippians, pages, 67-68)
“To bring man back as a disobedient subject, & reinstate him in heavenly citizenship, & confer upon him the immunities & duties of a servant, & let him take his place as a ministering spirit about the burning throne of God – this would be an exhibition of grace worthy of immortal doxologies; but grace is heaped upon grace, & mercy is banked upon mercy, & love is laid over upon love with more than ten-fold thickness, when the sinner is reclaimed, & transplanted in the bosom of the heavenly Father, made an inmate in the eternal and fadeless home of God, & appointed an heir to all that glory which is incorruptible, undefined, & that fades not away.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Adoption, page 20)
Passages such as Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16-17 are often cited as reasons why the 4th commandment no longer applies to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many, if not most, Christians believe that (or at least live as if) there is no Christian Sabbath day; the Lord’s Day is not held to be the Sabbath day, and any prohibitions or commands pertaining to the Sabbath day in the Old Covenant have no bearing on the behavior of the Christian in the new covenant. The author who has most impacted me toward holding the opposite of this view is John Murray, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 20th century. He has unpacked the position of the Westminster Confession with exegetical fidelity and overwhelming logic. And his comments on the question that heads this blog post are without par – unfortunately, they are also mainly without audience, since they’re found in an appendix of his commentary on Romans, a commentary that has been out of print in the past (though you can now find it here). I offer his comments here in the hopes that as the PCA begins to debate amending the Confessional Standards in the coming years, no one will make the mistake of raising Romans 14:5 in debate as a prooftext that “it really doesn’t matter how you think about or live on the Lord’s Day.”
The question is whether the weekly Sabbath comes within the scope of the distinction respecting days on which the apostle reflects in Romans 14:5. If so then we have to reckon with the following implications.
1. This would mean that the Sabbath commandment in the decalogue does not continue to have any binding obligation upon believers in the New Testament economy. The observance of one day in seven as holy and invested with the sanctity enunciated in the fourth commandment would be abrogated and would be in the same category in respect of observance as the ceremonial rites of the Mosaic institution. On the assumption posited, insistence upon the continued sanctity of each recurring seventh day would be as Judaizing as to demand the perpetuation of the Levitical feasts.
2. The first day of the week would have no prescribed religious significance. It would not be distinguished from any other day as the memorial of Christ’s resurrection and could not properly be regarded as the Lord’s day in distinction from the way in which every day is to be lived in devotion to and the service of the Lord Christ. Neither might any other day, weekly or otherwise, be regarded as set apart with this religious significance.
3. Observance of a weekly Sabbath or of a day commemorating our Lord’s resurrection would be a feature of the person weak in faith and in this case he would be weak in faith because he had not yet attained to the understanding that in the Christian institution all days are in the same category. Just as one weak Christian fails to recognize that all kinds of food are clean, so another, or perchance the same person, would fail to esteem every day alike.
These implications of the thesis in question cannot be avoided. We may now proceed to examine them in the light of the considerations which Scripture as a whole provides.
1. The Sabbath institution is a creation ordinance. It did not begin to have relevance at Sinai when the ten commandments were given to Moses on two tables (cf. Gen. 2:2, 3; Exod. 16:21-23). It was, however, incorporated in the law promulgated at Sinai and this we would expect in view of its significance and purpose as enunciated in Genesis 2:2, 3. It is so embedded in this covenant law that to regard it as of different character from its context in respect of abiding relevance goes counter to the unity and basic significance of what was inscribed on the two tables. Our Lord himself tells us of its purpose and claims it for his messianic Lordship (Mark 2:28). The thesis we are now considering would have to assume that the pattern provided by God himself (Gen. 2:2, 3) in the work of creation (cf. also Exod. 20:11; 31:17) has no longer any relevance for the regulation of man’s life on earth, that only nine of the ten words of the decalogue have authority for Christians, that the beneficent design contemplated in the original institution (Mark 2:28) has no application under the gospel, and that the lordship Christ exercised over the Sabbath was for the purpose of abolishing it as an institution to be observed. These are the necessary conclusions to be drawn from the assumption in question. There is no evidence to support any of these conclusions, and, when they are combined and their cumulative force frankly weighed, it is then that the whole analogy of Scripture is shown to be contradicted by the assumption concerned.
2. The first day of the week as the day on which Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19) is recognized in the New Testament as having a significance derived from this fact of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2) and this is the reason why John speaks of it as the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10). It is the one day of the week to which belongs this distinctive religious significance. Since it occurs every seventh day, it is a perpetually recurring memorial with religious intent and character proportionate to the place which Jesus’ resurrection occupies in the accomplishment of redemption. The two pivotal events in this accomplishment are the death and resurrection of Christ and the two memorial ordinances of the New Testament are the Lord’s supper and the Lord’s day, the one memorializing Jesus’ death and the other his resurrection. If Paul in Romans 14:5 implies that all distinction of days have been obliterated, then there is no room for the distinctive significance of the first day of the week as the Lord’s day. The evidence supporting the memorial character of the first day is not to be controverted and, consequently, in this respect also the assumption in question cannot be entertained, namely, that all religious distinction of days in completely abrogated in the Christian economy.
3. In accord with the analogy of Scripture and particularly the teaching of Paul, Romans 14:5 can properly be regarded as referring to the ceremonial holy days of the Levitical institution. The obligation to observe these is clearly abrogated in the New Testament. They have no longer relevance or sanction and the situation described in Romans 14:5 perfectly accords with what Paul would say with reference to religious scrupulosity or the absence of such anent [about] these days. Paul was not insistent upon the discontinuance of ritual observances of the Levitical ordinances as long as the observance was merely one of religious custom and not compromising the gospel (cf. Acts 18:18, 21; 21:20-27). He himself circumcised Timothy from considerations of expediency. But in a different situation he could write: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumicised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2). Ceremonial feast days fall into the category of which the apostle could say: “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike.” Many Jews would not yet have understood all the implications of the gospel and had still a scrupulous regard for these Mosaic ordinances. Of such scruples we know Paul to have been thoroughly tolerant and they fit the precise terms of the text in question. There is no need to posit anything that goes beyond such observances. To place the Lord’s day and the weekly Sabbath in the same category is not only beyond the warrant of exegetical requirements but brings us into conflict with principles that are embedded in the total witness of Scripture. An interpretation that involves such contradiction cannot be adopted. Thus the abiding sanctity of each recurring seventh day as the memorial of God’s rest in creation and of Christ’s exaltation in his resurrection is not to be regarded as in any way inspired by Romans 14:5.
“Appendix D, Romans 14:5 and the Weekly Sabbath” (pages 257-259)
In writing to a mother bereaved of her child, James Henley Thornwell (a 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor and theologian) eloquently describes the ways that suffering and affliction is God’s gift to us (cf. Philippians 1:29):
…let nothing keep you from the pure consolations of the gospel of Jesus. In your present situation, religion proposes to you her sweetest cordials. You can understand the gospel now. Affliction has revealed to you the vanity of man, the deceitfulness of life, the certainty of death, the instability of all sublunary [belonging to this world] good; and in striking contrast presents the unchanging perpetuity of an unchanging state, and the glories which await the child of faith. You can now almost advance by strides toward the heavenly kingdom. And if earth is rendered less pleasant, Jesus more charming, and heaven more desireable, by the dark providence which has called you to mourning, you will bless God through all eternity for His chastening rod. (Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, page 241)
As I prepare this week to go down to preach at the Missions Conference at Columbia Presbyterian Church (the first church I pastored out of seminary, so we’re really looking forward to being reunited with the brothers and sisters there again), I’ve had occasion again to think about why so many (including myself) so often fail to engage in personal evangelism of any sort. Here are a handful of reasons that may or may not apply to you:
- Some Christians are spiritual isolationists or protectionists, and don’t want unbelievers around – they’re barely in the world, they fear the world.
- Some Christians are ingrown and like Jonah could care less about the world.
- Some Christians are rank with worldliness, like Demas; they’re so of the world – they sinfully love the world – that they have nothing to call the world toward.
- Some Christians are so focused on orthodoxy that they ignore orthopraxy.
- Some Christians could care less about orthodoxy and so if they have orthopraxy it too easily loses its gospel, Biblical moorings – they don’t really think people are going to hell apart from Christ, so their“missions” ends up looking no different than AmeriCorps or Rotary Club.
- Some Christians are enslaved to the fear of man or apathy.
- Some Christians don’t think they have that gift and so it’s not their responsibility.
Each of these could be expanded on. Each one is ultimately inexcusable – yet forgivable through the blood of Christ. And the more we see our sins forgiven by the blood of Christ, the more we ought to be motivated and moved to talk about the forgiveness of sins with others. I love the words of John Holt Rice at the 1831 Presbyterian Church General Assembly: “the Presbyterian Church in the United States is a missionary society, and every member of the church is a life member of the same, and bound in maintenance of his Christian character to do all in his power for the accomplishment of that object.” No matter what church of the Lord Jesus Christ you attend, this statement is true. May the Lord give us boldness, open doors, and grace to gather in His harvest.
In his sermon on II Samuel 10 this evening, John Perritt pointed out that there are at least three declarations of trust in the providence of God in I-II Samuel: Eli – “It is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to Him” (I Sam 3:18 -some may argue he is displaying an arrogant apathy here, but I don’t agree); Jonathan – “…perhaps the Lord will work for us” (I Sam 14:6); and Joab – “…may the Lord do what is good in His sight” (II Sam 10:12).
This is how we speak if we believe that God is sovereign and we are responsible. This is how we speak of we’re praying, “Thy will be done.” Is this the way you speak? May the Lord enable us to rest in His sovereign grace.
Three weeks ago we held our Missions Festival at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church, and one of the highlights of the week was our Friday evening Missions Showcase. It was an exhibit hall of sorts – over 30 missionaries and ministries were set up in our gym so that our congregation could visit with them and learn about what God is doing through them in the world.
But the highlight of the evening was what the children did. First, we gave them a “passport” – a pamphlet that beautifully showed all the ministries/missionaries we support around the globe – and told them to go from table to table, getting their passport “stamped” by those present and asking how they might be praying for the work these brothers and sisters were doing. Second, for one hour we rotated our children through four “missions stations.” Divided by age, the children moved from a prayer station (at which youth helped lead them in prayer for our missionaries), a letter station (at which youth helped them write and draw letters encouraging our missionaries), a story station (at which we told them the story of Jim Elliott and encouraged them to do what they could for the sake of the gospel), and a game station (at which we did a Bible sword drill of missionary passages and had them try to fill up a continental map of the world, in order to learn both the Biblical foundation and the geography of missions). I was so encouraged by the excitement with which the children left the Missions Showcase, and pray that parents are continuing to cultivate the seeds that were planted.
It is easy to neglect children as we think about the missionary efforts of the church. We assume they’re too young to go, they don’t have enough money to give, and they don’t really know how to pray. Thomas Smyth, a 19th century Presbyterian pastor in Charleston, South Carolina, would beg to differ. In 1843 he wrote “The Duty of Interesting Children in the Missionary Cause,” in which he takes to task the mindset that would overlook the children of the church when the topic of missions arises, or neglect to raise them with the heart, passion, and habits of a missionary.
Smyth’s opening premise is Christian parenting 101: Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 22:6 teach us “that our children by their baptism are devoted to the Lord, and become members of his church and kingdom, and that we are under obligation to bring them up as such, not merely by instructing them, and thoroughly imbuing their minds with christian truth, but also by accustoming them to, and interesting them in, every part of christian activity, devotedness, and zeal.” Our children are to be brought up as the Lord’s – “not only as those who ought to believe in him, and to know the doctrines that are of God, but as those who are bound also to love him, to serve him, to honor him, and to cooperate, according to the measure of their ability and their sphere of influence, in the promotion of his glory, and the advancement of his cause.”
This has everything to do with missions, of course:
As the term “Missionary” is employed to designate the work of making known “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” to those that know it not – which is the great work and duty of the church, and of every christian – it is therefore our manifest duty to bring up our children in a missionary spirit and in a missionary practice. A missionary is one who is sent to preach the gospel to those that are “sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death,” whether abroad, or in our own country. To have a missionary spirit, is to be anxiously desirous that such missionaries should be sent, and the gospel made known to all that are “perishing for lack of knowledge.” And a missionary practice or habit, is the habit of carrying out this desire, first, by praying that such missionaries may be raised up and sent forth by the Lord of the harvest, into every part of his vineyard; secondly, by contributing as far as we can towards meeting the necessary expense of sending and supporting these missionaries, and supplying what is necessary to establish schools and print Bibles, and other needful books; and, thirdly, by uniting with zeal in such efforts as will promote this spirit, and secure this habit.
Smyth insists that children are able to possess this spirit and these habits, and that they ought to have this spirit and these habits. They ought to do all they can do for those who are lost. And if they are not, writes Smyth, then
…what are children doing? Their hearts are hardening and becoming utterly insensible, through selfishness, worldliness, and indifference, to the miseries, especially the spiritual miseries, of their fellow men. They are daily becoming more averse to holiness, and more inclined to sin. They are becoming confirmed in the opinion that it is right for them to live for themselves, unto themselves, and in the gratification of their own desires. They are led to believe, and to act upon that belief, that this world is all-important, and the future world of comparatively little interest; and that there is no danger to be dreaded from what a man believes, and not much from what a man does. But is this the instruction or discipline of Christ? Is such a child brought up for God? No, he is given over to the world, the flesh and the Devil as their lawful prey. He is allowed to grow up as an unbeliever, and to live as a young atheist in the world.
We must teach our children not only what to believe, but how to live – and one of the primary things we must teach them is how to give their money away. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and in doing good our children will certainly receive good. Smyth says, “The child who keeps his hand and his heart employed in what is good, who is learning what needs to be done for the heathen at home and abroad, and is giving his money or his prayers that they may be brought to Christ, is preventing much evil to himself. He is destroying the evil of selfishness in his own heart, or, rather, God is destroying it, by working in him the desire of doing good to others…’He that waters shall be watered also himself’ [Prov. 11:25].”
How are you encouraging and instructing your children in the missionary cause? Here are some practical things you can be doing:
- Pray for a missionary you/your church supports at every meal.
- Pray through the book Operation World at family worship.
- Write letters/emails/pictures to the missionaries you support – if you don’t know their address, scan and email the letters/pictures.
- If you give your children an allowance, encourage them to give a portion of that to missions.
- Encourage your children to make money around their neighborhood for the cause of Christ around the world (raking leaves, mowing lawns, baking cookies, etc.)
- Take your children with you on a mission trip out of the state or country.
- Take your children with you to feed the homeless downtown.
- Take your children to one of the ministries your church supports.
- Talk with your children about whether God is calling them to the mission field.
- Encourage your children to speak to their neighbors about Jesus.
- Read missionary stories and watch missionary videos.
- Have missionaries into your home for dinner.
- Have international students into your home for dinner.
- And many, many more (I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!).
Our covenant children are not too young to speak the name of Jesus to those around them, to pray for the kingdom of God to come, to give to its advance and spread. Being now to inculcate a missionary spirit and missionary habits into their hearts, and by God’s grace when they are old that spirit and those habits will remain within them.