The regulative principle

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day by A. A. Hodge


Archibald A. Hodge (1823-1886)

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.—.Exodus 20:8


HE object of this [article] is simply to state the grounds upon which the faith of the universal Church rests when, while recognizing the Fourth Commandment as an integral part of the supreme, universal, and unalterable Moral Law, she affirms that the first day of the week has for this purpose—and for obvious reasons—been substituted for the seventh by the authority of the inspired apostles and, therefore, of Christ Himself.

1. Observe that the particular day of the week on which the Sabbath is to be kept, although fixed for revealed reasons by the will of God at the creation, never was or could be of the essence of the institution itself. The command to observe the Sabbath is essentially as moral and immutable as the commands to abstain from stealing, killing, or adultery. It has, like them, its ground in the universal and permanent constitution and relations of human nature. It was designed to meet the physical, moral, spiritual, and social wants of men; to afford a suitable time for the public moral and religious instruction of the people and the public and private worship of God; and to afford a suitable period of rest from the wear and tear of secular labor. That a certain proper proportion of time—regularly recurring and observed in common by the community of Christian people and of Christian nations—should be appointed and its observance rendered obligatory by divine authority is therefore the very essence of the institution. These essential elements are found unchanged under both dispensations.’

The Sabbath, as divinely ordained in the Old Testament, is just what all men need today. It was commanded that all should cease from worldly labor and keep the time holy in devoting it to the worship of God and the good of men. The services of the temple were re-doubled;2 and, afterward, the instructions and worship of the synagogue were introduced. It was granted to the people and to their sent-

under both dispensations — dispensations, as used here, means “periods of time,” and in

this context, the phrase means “under the Old and New Covenants.”

2 redoubled — increased.

ants and beasts as a privilege, not as a burden (Deu 5:12-15). It was always kept by the Jews and after them by the early Christians, as a festival, and not as a fast.3

In later years, it was—like all other parts of God’s revealed will—overlaid with pharisaical and rabbinical carnal interpretations and additions. From all these, Christ purged it, as He did the rest of the Law. He came “to fulfill all righteousness”; therefore, He kept the Sabbath religiously and taught His disciples, while disregarding the glosses4 of the Pharisees, to keep it in its essential spiritual sense as ordained by God. He declared that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mar 2:27), the genus Imo,’ and consequently is both binding on all men for all time and adapted to the nature and wants of all men under all historical conditions.

On the other hand, it is evident that the particular day set apart is not in the least of the essence of the institution and that it must depend upon the positive will of God, which of course may substitute one day instead of another on suitable occasions for adequate reasons.

2. The introduction of a new dispensation, which a preparatory and particularistic nation-system [Israel] is to be replaced by a permanent and universal one [the Church], embracing all nations to the end time, is certainly such a suitable occasion. The Moral Law, expressed in the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God on stone and made the foundation of His throne between the cherubim and the condition of His covenant, must remain. The types, the special municipal laws of the Jews, and whatever is unessential in Sabbath or other permanent institutions must be changed.

3. The amazing fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the first day of the week constitutes evidently adequate reason for appointing that instead of the seventh day to be the Christian Sabbath. The Old Testament is introduced with an account of the genesis of the heaven and earth, and the old dispensation first grounds itself upon the relation of God as Creator of the universe and of man.

The New Testament is introduced with an account of the genesis of Jesus Christ and reveals the incarnate Creator as our champion, victorious over sin and death. The recognition of God as Creator is

3 Joseph Bingham (1668-1723), Antiquities of the Christian Church, vol. 2, bk. 20, ch. 3; Smith’s Dictionary ofthe Bible, Art. “Sabbath.”

4 glosses — deceptive interpretations.

genus homo — genus = scientific classification of one or more species; in this context, homo

= human beings.

common to every theistic’ system; the recognition of the resurrection of the incarnate God is peculiar to Christianity. The recognition of God as Creator is involved and conserved in the recognition of the resurrection of Christ, while the latter article of faith carries with it also the entire body of Christian faith and hope and life. The fact of the resurrection consummates the process of redemption as far as it is objective to the Church. It is the reason of our faith, the ground of our hope, [and] the pledge of our personal salvation and of the ultimate triumph of our Lord as the Savior of the world. It is the keystone of historical Christianity and, consequently, of all living theism’ in the civilized world. The essential qualification of an apostle was that he was an eyewitness of the resurrection. Their doctrine was summed up as a preaching of “Jesus and the resurrection” (Act 1:22, 4:2, 17:18, 23:6,24:21).

4. During His life, Jesus had affirmed that He was “Lord also of the Sabbath day” (Mar 2:28). After His resurrection, He signalized the first day of the week, and not the seventh, by His revelation. On the day He rose, He appeared to His disciples on five different occasions. Withdrawing Himself during the interval, [He] reappeared on the following “first day of the week,’ His disciples being assembled and Thomas with them: “Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you” (Joh 20:19). The day of Pentecost falling that year on the “first day of the week,” the disciples were again found assembled by mutual understanding: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.. .And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Act 2:1, 4); and the promised gift of the Holy Ghost descended upon them. The Lord, after many years, appeared unto John in Patmos and granted him the great closing Revelation on the “Lord’s day”: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet” (Rev 1:10), which all the early Christians understood to signify the weekly festival dedicated to the resurrection of the Lord.

6 theistic — pertaining to belief in the existence of a god or gods.

theism — belief in the existence of God.

8 first day of the week — (Greek = tr* ‘thy aaPfletraw) The assertion of the seventh day Sabbatarians that this phrase should be translated “one of the Sabbaths” is absurd. aa1313erroxv (sabbattm) is neuter and cannot agree [grammatically] with the feminine E4 &St

The record is also full of evidence that the members of all the apostolic churches were in the habit of assembling in their respective places at regular times for the purpose of common worship (1Co 11:17, 20; 14:23-26; Heb 10:25). That these assemblies were held on the “first day of the week” is certain from the action of Paul at Troas: “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days. And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Act 20:6-7). So also his orders to the churches of Corinth and Galatia: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1Co 16:1-2). The change was then certainly made, as we can trace by an unbroken and consistent chain of testimonies from the time of the apostles to the present. The motives for the change assigned by the early Christian Fathers are known to have operated upon the apostles and are perfectly congruous’ with all that is recorded of their characters, lives, and doctrines. The change, therefore, had the sanction of the apostles and, consequently, the authority of the “Lord of the Sabbath” Himself.

5. From the time of John, who first gave the institution its best and most sacred title—”Lord’s Day”—there is an unbroken and unexceptional chain of testimonies that the “first day of the week” was observed as the Christian’s day of worship and rest. For a long time, the word Sabbath continued to be applied exclusively to the seventh day. From habit, and in conformity to the natural sentiments of the Jewish converts, the early Christians long continued to observe both days. They kept every seventh day except the Sabbath before Easter, when the Lord lay in the grave, as they did every first day, as a festival. Afterward for a time, [Romanism], in opposition to Judaism, kept it as a fast. They held public religious services upon it. But the day was no longer considered sacred; labor was never suspended nor legally in-terdicted.rn On the other hand, any tendency to return to its ancient observance as a strictly holy day, as in any sense sacred, as the first day of the week was maintained to be, was discountenanced’ as an

9 congruous – in agreement or harmony.

I° interdicted – forbidden.

n discountenanced – looked on with disfavor.

abandoning the freedom of the gospel and a returning to the ceremonial [practices] of the Jews.

The early Christians called their own day, for which they asserted preeminence and exclusive obligation, “the Lord’s Day,” “the first day of the week,” “the eighth day”; and, in their communication with the heathen, they came to call it, as we have done in correspondence with ancient secular usage, “dies solis”—”Sunday.” A comparison of the passages in which these designations are used by the early Christians makes it absolutely certain that they signify the same day, since they are all defined as applying to the day after the Jewish Sabbath or to the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

Ignatius,12 an immediate friend of the apostles, martyred at Rome not more than fifteen years after the death of John, in his Epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 9, says, “Those who have come to the possession cf new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath (seventh day), but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again, by Him and by His death.” He calls the Lord’s Day “the queen and chief of all the days” (of the week).

The author of the Epistle of St. Barnabas, writing a little before or at latest not long after the death of the apostle John, says, chapter 15, “We celebrate the eighth day with joy, on which, too, Jesus rose from the dead.”

Justin Martyr’ says, “On the day called Sunday is an assembly of all who live either in cities or in the rural districts, and the memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read.. .because it is the first day on which God dispelled the darkness and the original state of things and formed the world, and because Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead upon it.” “Therefore it remains the chief and first of days.” The testimony continues uniform and unbroken…

Tenullian,14 writing at the close of the second century, says, “On the Lord’s Day, Christians, in honor of the resurrection of the Lord.. .must avoid everything that would cause anxiety, and defer all worldly business, lest they should give place to the devil.”

Athanasius’s says explicitly, “The Lord transferred the sacred ob-

12 Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35/50-c. 110) — early Christian theologian and martyr; student of

John the Apostle.

” Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165) — early Christian apologist and martyr.

14 Tertullian (c. 155-220) — early Latin theologian and apologist from Carthage, Africa.

IS Athanasius (c. 295-373) — Greek bishop of Alexandria, Egypt; defender of the deity of


servance (from the Sabbath) to the Lord’s Day.”

The author of the sermons de Temporel6 says “The apostles transferred the observance of the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day; and therefore from the evening of the Sabbath to the evening of the Lord’s Day, men ought to abstain from all country-work and secular business, and only attend divine service”…

The testimony of all the great Reformers and all historical branches of the modern Christian Church agree… (1) Luther,” Calvin,’ and other Reformers taught that the Sabbath was ordained for the whole human race at the creation, [and] (2) that it was in its essential features designed to be of universal and perpetual obligation…

The change of the day by the apostolic Church [is] proved by historical testimony [of the early church and of the Reformers], to which much might be added if space permitted, but against which no counter-evidence exists. This, as well as the passages above cited, proves that the change was effected by the authority of the apostles and, hence, by the authority of Christ. With the apostles preaching “Jesus and the resurrection” and observing and appointing the first day of the week for religious services, God bore “witness both with signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost” (Heb 2:4). Ever since the great Pentecostal Lord’s Day, this day has been observed by God’s true people and blessed by the Holy Ghost. It has been recognized and graciously used as an essential and pre-eminent means of building up the kingdom of Christ and effecting the salvation of His seed. And this divine acknowledgement has been in every age and nation in direct proportion to the faithful consecration of the day to its spiritual purpose. It is not possible that either a superstitions will-worship or an ignorant misconception should have been crowned with uniform and discriminating seals of divine [approval] through eighteen hundred years.

From The Sabbath: The Day Changed; the Sabbath Preserved,

in the public domain.

Archibald Alexander Hodge (1823-1886): American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and principal of Princeton Seminary; born in Princeton, NJ, USA.


‘ sermons de Tempore — festival sermons.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) — German theologian and leader of the Reformation.

John Calvin (1509-1564)— French-born Swiss Protestant reformer

A. A. Hodge, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, n.d.