by Dr. John Murray
If we accept the witness of Scripture there can be no question that the weekly Sabbath finds its basis in and derives its sanction from the example of God himself. He created the heavens and the earth in six days and “on the seventh God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it” (Gen. 2:2,3). The fourth commandment in the decalogue sets forth the obligation resting upon man and it makes express appeal to this sanction. “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” (Exod. 20:11).
Many regard this Sabbath institution as a shadow of things to come and, therefore, as an ordinance to be observed, has passed away because that of which it was a shadow has been realized in the full light of the new and better covenant. At this point suffice it to ask the question: has the pattern of God’s work and rest in creation ceased to be relevant? Is this pattern a shadow in the sense of those who espouse this position? The realm of our existence is that established by creation and maintained by God’s providence. The new covenant has in no respect abrogated creation nor has it diminished its relevance. Creation both as action and product is as significant for us as it was for Israel under the old covenant. The refrain of Scripture in both Testaments is that the God of creation is the God of redemption in all stages of covenantal disclosure and realization. This consideration is invested with greater significance when we bear in mind that the ultimate standard for us is likeness to God (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 John 3:2,3). And it is this likeness, in the sphere of our behaviour, that undergirds the demand for Sabbath observance (Exod. 20:11; 31:17).
The Redemptive Pattern
It is noteworthy that the Sabbath commandment as given in Deuteronomy (Deut. 5:12-15) does not appeal to God’s rest in creation as the reason for keeping the Sabbath day. In this instance mention is made of something else. “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and an out-streched arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15). This cannot be understood as in any way annulling the sanction of Exodus 20:11; 31:17. Deuteronomy comprises what was the reiteration of the covenant made at Sinai. When the Sabbath commandment is introduced Israel is reminded of the earlier promulgation: “Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee” (Deut. 5:12). And we should observe that all the commandments have their redemptive sanction. The preface to all is: “I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2; cf. Deut. 5:6). So what we find in Deut. 5;15 in connection with the Sabbath is but the application of the preface to the specific duty enunciated in the fourth command. It is supplement to Exodus 20:11, not suspension. We have now added reason for observing the Sabbath. This is full of meaning and we must linger to analyze and appreciate.
The deliverance from Egypt was redemption. “Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed” (Exod. 15:13). It is more than any other event the redemption of the old Testament. It is the analogue of the greater redemption accomplished by Christ. The Sabbath commandment derives its sanction not only from God’s rest in creation but also from redemption out of Egypt’s bondage. This fact that the Sabbath in Israel had a redemptive reference and sanction bears directly upon the question of its relevance in the New Testament. The redemption from Egypt cannot be properly viewed except as the anticipation of the greater redemption wrought in the fullness of time. Hence, if redemption from Egypt accorded sanction to the Sabbath institution and provided reason for its observance the same must apply to the greater redemption and apply in a way commensurate with the greater fullness and dimensions of the redemption secured by the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, it is the fullness and richness of the new covenant that accord to the Sabbath ordinance increased relevance, sanction, and blessing.
The more violence we put forth in religion, the greater measure of glory we shall have.
14. The more violence we put forth in religion, the greater measure of glory we shall have. That there are degrees in glory in Heaven seems to me beyond dispute.
1. There are degrees of torment in Hell; therefore, by the rule of contraries, there are degrees of glory in Heaven.
2. The Scripture speaks of a prophet’s reward, Matt. x. 41. which is a degree above others.
3. The saints are said to shine as the stars, Dan. xii. Now one star differeth from another in glory. So that there are gradations of happiness; and of this judgment is Calvin; as also many of the ancient fathers. Consider then seriously, the more violent we are for Heaven, and the more work we do for God, the greater will be our reward. The hotter our zeal, the brighter our crown. Could we hear the blessed souls departed speaking to us from Heaven, surely they would say, Were we to leave heaven awhile and to dwell on the earth again, we would do God a thousand times more service than we have ever done; we would pray with more life, act with more zeal; for now we see that the more we have labored, the more astonishing is our joy and the more flourishing our crown.
15. Upon our violence for the kingdom God hath promised mercy. Matt. vii. 7. — Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
1. Ask. Ask with importunity. A faint asking begs a denial. King Ahasuerus stood with his golden scepter and said to queen Esther, ask, and it shall be given, to the half of the kingdom. But God saith more; ask and he will give you the whole kingdom, Luke xii. 32. It is observable, that the door of the tabernacle was not of brass, but had a thin covering, a veil, that they might easily enter into it: So the door of Heaven is made easy through Christ’s blood, that our prayers put up in fervency may enter. — Upon our asking, God has promised to give his spirit, Luke xi.13. And if he gives his Spirit, he will give his kingdom; the Spirit first anoints, 1 John ii. 27, and after his anointing oil comes the crown.
2. ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’ But, is it not said, ‘Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able?’ Luke xiii. 24. I answer, that that is because they seek in a wrong manner.
Having answered these objections, let me reassume the exhortation, pressing all christians to this violence for the heavenly kingdom. As David’s three worthies ventured their lives, and brake through the host of the Philistines for water, 2 Sam. xxiii. 46, — Such a kind of violence must we use, breaking through all dangers for obtaining the ‘water of life.‘
1. Consider the deplorable condition we are in by nature; a state of misery and damnation; therefore what violence should we use to get out of it? Were one plunged into quicksands, would he not use violence to get out? Sin is a quicksand, and is it not wisdom to extricate ourselves out? David being encomÂpassed with enemies, said ‘His soul was among lions,’ Psalm lvii. 4. ‘Tis true in a spiritual sense, our soul is among lions. Every sin is a lion that would devour us, and if we are in the lion’s den, should not we use violence to get out? The angels used violence to Lot; they laid hold on him and pulled him out of Sodom, Gen. xix. 16. Such violence must be used to get out of the spiritual Sodom. It is not safe to stay in the enemy’s quarters.
2. It is possible that in the use of means we may arrive at happiness. Impossibility destroys endeavor; but here is a door of hopeopened. The thing is feasible. It is not with us as with the damned in hell; there is a tomb-stone rolled over them. But while we are under the sound of Aaron’s bell, and the silver trumpet of the gospel is blown in our ears, while the spirit of grace breathes on us, and we are on this side of the grave, there is great hope that by holy violence we may win Paradise. An absolute impossibility of salvation is only for those who have sinned against the Holy Ghost, and cannot repent; but who these are is a secret sealed up in God’s book: else here is great encouragement to all to be serious and earnest in the matters of eternity, because they are yet in a capacity of mercy, no final sentence is already passed; God hath not yet taken up the drawbridge of mercy. Though the gate of Paradise is strait, yet it is not shut. This should be as oil to the wheels, to make us lively and active in the business of salvation. — Therefore as the husbandman plows in hope, James v. so we should pray in hope; do all our work for heaven in hope; for the white flag of mercy is yet held forth. So long as there was corn to be had in Egypt, the sons of Jacob would not sit starving at home, Gen. xliii. 3. So there is a kingdom to be obtained; therefore let us not sit starving in our sins any longer.
This violence for Heaven is the grand business of our lives: What did we come into the world for else? We did not come here only to eat and drink, and wear fine clothes; but the end of our living is, to be violent for the kingdom of glory. Should the body only be tended, this were be to trim the scabbard, and let the blade rust; to preserve the lumber, and let the child be burnt. God sends us into the world as a merchant sends his goods to trade for him beyond the seas. — So God sends us here to follow a spiritual trade, to serve him and save our souls. If we spend all our time aut aliud agendo, aut nihil, in dressing and pampering our bodies, or idle visits, we shall give but a sad account to God, when he shall send us a letter of summons by death and bid us give an account of our stewardship. Were not he much to be blamed who would have a great deal of timber given him to build a house if he only cut all this brave timber into chips? Just so is the case of many; God gives them precious time in which they are to provide for a kingdom, and they waste this time of life and cut it all into chips. Let this excite violence in the things of God. It is the main errand of our living here and shall we go through the world and forget our errand?