As observance of the Sabbath has never been rescinded, surely Christians should embrace its concept of rest on the first day of the week, the Lord’s day—the Christian Sabbath?
I understand that Augustine was the first who directed that features of the Sabbath should be transferred to Sunday, but the idea of a legal Christian Sabbath began with the Reformation.
There is no doubt that a man having rest from work one day in the week has great benefits for both himself and his family. When this is enshrined in civil law, believers can praise God for this providential mercy—especially if that day is the Lord’s day (Sunday). When that is so, the believer is free to be active in his Lord’s interests. Nonetheless, this is providential, not Scriptural. It does not justify transferring the features of the Sabbath, the seventh day, to the Lord’s day, the first day of the week. Let us see what Scripture does say and what it does not say.
The Sabbath, first mentioned in Ex. 16: 23–26 and included as one of the ten commandments, is based on God’s work in the old creation (see Ex. 20: 8–11 and Gen. 2: 3). There is no mention of its being kept by any of the patriarchs and the word Sabbath itself is absent from Genesis. The covenant of promises that God made with Abraham was unconditional (see Gen. 12: 1–3; 13: 14–17; 15: 1–7; 17: 1–14; 22: 15–18) and a sign of that covenant was circumcision (see Gen. 17: 11). The covenant of law that God made with Israel was conditional for the people said “All that Jehovah has said will we do, and obey!” (Ex. 24: 7). A sign of that covenant was the Sabbath (see Ex. 31: 12–17). This covenant was broken by the people before Moses had even come down from the mountain. Hence it is on the grounds of the promises made to Abraham that Israel as a nation will be blessed on earth in the world to come—the millennium (compare Gen. 13: 15 with Is. 14: 1, 2; Jer. 32: 37–41 et al).
When the Lord “became a minister of [the] circumcision for [the] truth of God, to confirm the promises of the fathers” (Rom. 15: 8), he pointedly put a slight on the Sabbath, purposefully healing again and again on that day (see Matt. 12: 1–13; Mark 1: 21–27; 2: 23–28; 3:1–6; Luke 6: 6–11; 13: 10–17; 14:1–6; John 5: 1–18; 7: 23; 9: 14). God’s Sabbath of rest had been broken the moment that sin entered the world—hence the Lord’s words “My Father worketh hitherto and I work” (John 5: 17). Israel had failed under law and when their Messiah was rejected He speaks of Himself as the “Lord of the sabbath” (Matt. 12: 8), able to dispose of it and its strictures at will.
The Sabbath was one of the ten words of Sinai and part of the law. The Apostle’s word to Christians is “So that, my brethren, ye also have been made dead to the law (including the Sabbath) by the body of the Christ, to be to another, who has been raised up from among [the] dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God” (Rom. 7: 4). The Lord’s body was in the grave on the Sabbath but He rose again on the first day of the week. If Christians have a day, then this is it. There is no injunction either in the Acts or the Epistles for Christians to observe the Sabbath or to carry its instructions across to the Lord’s day. Indeed the word Sabbath only occurs once in the Epistles as “sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ” (Col. 2: 16, 17). Christian Jews were told that the law had only “a shadow of the coming good things” (Heb. 10: 1) and that there “remains then a sabbatism (a Sabbath–keeping) to the people of God” (Heb. 4: 9). This is in the future—not the present. The creation itself also awaits that time of rest for the earth (see Rom. 8: 18–22). It is true that the Christian believer is linked by his physical body to the old creation and the earth but as “in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things (Sabbaths included) have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5: 17). The Sabbath belongs to the old creation, the earth and an earthly people (Israel); the Christian belongs to the new creation, heaven and a heavenly company.
True, the Sabbath has not been rescinded and neither has the law of which it forms a part, but as already said the Christian has been made dead to both (Rom. 7: 4). To carry the restrictive features of the Sabbath over to the Lord’s day is to put the Christian under law, not grace. The Lord’s day gives the Christian liberty to labour in the Lord’s interests. It is a day of activity rather than rest––but activity in what pleases God.