The Fourth Commandment.
Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seveth day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, not thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seveth day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it”.
This clear command cannot be clearer enough. By the finger of God, He commands that we, the children of God, the believers today, keep the Lord’s Day Holy. Yet there is a majority of Evangelical’s and non-Evangelicals who would dispute that. They would suggest that this command was only commanded for a specific group of people, namely, the Israelites. Furthermore, that it is not for the rest of mankind, since this command stands, according to them, as a ceremonial law as part of the abolishment that Christ had done on the cross. Yet it is hard to ignore the simple command, which by the way, if you have noticed, is the longest and most clear command of all of the Ten Commandments.
It cannot be part of the Jewish ceremonial law and it cannot be only for the Jews for these reasons: first, when God created the World in six days and on the seventh it says that He rested and called this day a Holy day, was this before the ceremonial laws or after? Answer: it was before Mount Sinai, before the ceremonial laws were added. And was this command from the beginning of creation or after Moses? Answer: before Moses in the beginning of creation. Does this mean then, that the fourth commandment that we read in our Bible’s is a command that must be kept for all times at all places since it is a creation ordinance? Answer: yes. But how do we know if the command in Exodus is the same ordinance that God commanded since the time of creation; or not a new command? It is found here in our text verse 9 “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work”. But, says the Lord verse 10 “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work”. And here is the connection and the evidence that the this is not a new command: reading from Genesis 2:1-2 “This the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” after six days, “on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made”.
Man is supposed to stop working and stop any labour as God did in the time of creation. In many ways, the commandments are for the Christian to learn how to imitate God. This does not mean that man as a fallen sinner, can reach the perfect standard of God, but as a child observing and learning how to walk, how to talk, to live according to his beloved Father, he is to be encouraged to follow in his father’s footsteps. As we are commanded elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures ‘Be ye therefore followers of God”(Ephesians 5:1). That word for ‘followers’ in the KJV, (μιμητής mimetes (miy-mee-tees’), means to imitate in the original Greek. Paul reminds us to imitate the character of God. And as we know, the Law is a reflection of God’s character and righteousness and this will never change.
God already loves the believer because Christ died for Him. He is adopted in heaven with Christ and in Christ. However, the law does not end here. The Christian, as a born again creature now loves the Law of God, it is a delight to him (Psalm 119:97, 102). And he desires to worship God with everything by imitating Him (Ephesians 5:1). So it is with this mind set, of gratitude, love and passion to serve the Lord out of a genuine love and affection for Him, that the Christian understands how this text must be interpret. We are to be imitators of Christ, imitators of God’s holiness and goodness so that others may also see and believe.
But this is not all. Secondly, in Genesis 2:3 we read “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it;”. He blessed it, that is, He sanctified it, which is another word to mean He made it ‘holy’ He set it apart. Now turn to Exodus 20:8 and look with me here: “Remember the Sabbath day” that is, remember from that day of creation which God has ordained, “to keep it holy” as God has blessed it and made it holy. There is a connection indeed here, even more so in verse 11 “wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it”, that is, He made it Holy. It is set apart as a special day.
Ask yourself this question: if Moses wrote this, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to remind us, all mankind and the Israelites, who are also men, to observe what was ordained and commanded from the time of creation, then what reason is there to think that there must be no Sabbath keeping? And by what authority?
Moreover, in Exodus 16:23, before God called Moses to take the tablet with the ten commandments, God commanded to the Israelites “And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe that ye will seeth; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.”.
As God instituted the Sabbath command since the time of creation (Genesis 2:2-3), in Exodus 16:23 it is republished here in verse 23, 30 “So the people rested on the seventh day”. Then it was repeated in Exodus 20:8-11 as we read earlier. Hence this command is not something new that God has stated for a short period of time.
In fact, the Princeton professor A.A Hodge wrote “there is no appearance of its being a new institution; but it is referred to as a day accustomed to be observed; or, at least, as one on which it was not lawful to perform the common labours of the week.” He also added “Evidently, this was no part of the ceremonial law, which was not yet given; and no new institution was ever established in this incidental manner.”
How do we know that this is not a form or a part of the Jewish ceremonial law added after Mount Sinai?
First, we already mentioned that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance before Mount Sinai. But what else does this Scriptural fact mean for us? It means that the Sabbath was ordained before the fall of man, before sin and death came into the world. The ceremonial laws included sacrifices of bulls, lamps and goats and restriction of eating certain animals and days of festivals. For what purpose? Why did Christ need to come and abolish the ceremonial laws? The purpose of the burn offerings was for atonement of sins. This was done only by the Jews who were the circumcised people. These of course were signs of the coming of a better sacrifice, a better substitute, a better atonement. That sign was the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. The relation of sin entering into the world and the need for the atonement of sin here cannot be argued. Indeed we all agree on this. However, when it comes to the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, there is no connection, it is irrelevant to the ceremonial keeping. I am talking here about the fourth commandment itself, not the ceremonial laws added later which were connected with the fourth commandment. For the Sabbath was instituted before the fall, before Mount Sinai and certainly before the ceremonial laws were revealed.
Some may argue that Christ came to abolish us from the Law, that is, the Ten Commandments. I think the words of our Lord would dispute that type of argument when He said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fufil”(Matthew 5:17). Indeed the life that God commanded us to live by, we failed to do so. Thus we are not justified in order to be saved by keeping the Law. But when Christ died and became that perfect atonement which we read in the book of Hebrews, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified”(Hebrews 10:12,14). Christ then fulfilled the Law and its requirements. But not only that, the temporal law, that is, the ceremonial law were abolished because Christ was that sign, that figure, who became the one and only perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins. The Moral Law, the Decalogue, is the original moral Law that God commands all Christians to keep even after they are saved. The ceremonial laws were about sacrifices and atonement for sin to which we know now that Christ became that one and only sacrifice and atonement that pleased the wrath of God for all time.
Let us also add secondly, that the ceremonial laws were only for the people of Israel. God did not command them to be observed by all men, like Gentiles. So does God command only the Israelites to keep the Sabbath?
The text that we have read says “in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, not thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” Exodus 20:8-11. Notice the underlining words which indicate to us that God has not commanded that only the Israelites will keep the Moral law. If it was so, it would have been treated as a ceremonial law like the ones we find in the book of Leviticus. But it is quite the opposite. The text mentions God commanding the ‘stranger’ that is, the Gentile, to keep the Sabbath Holy.
It was theological Giant B.B. Warfield who stated “They (the commandment) give him a concise but comprehensive summary of his duties towards God and man. But the Israelite, too, is a man. And it ought not to surprise us to discover that the duties of the Israelites towards God and man, when summarily stated, are just the fundamental duties that are owed to God and man by every man, whether Greek, or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free. Such, at all events, is, in fact, the case.” “These commandments are but the positive publication to Israel of the universal human duties, the common morality of mankind.”
This justifies the Fourth Commandment as a Moral Law as valid as the First to the Tenth.
Thirdly, with all solemnity, if one does not keep the Fourth commandment, perfectly or imperfectly, they are rejecting the perfect character of God. Because as most of us know, the Ten Commandment, the Law is a reflection of God’s perfect moral character as we have already stated earlier. And if we deny to follow or believe that we ought to follow the Law of God as Christians, we deny God’s morally perfect nature. Since God has instituted the Moral Law, His character cannot change by nature. Neither can the fourth commandment change. We also must realize that these commandments, all of them; not just the nine, or just three or four of them, all of them, are binding for us until we meet Christ.
 Taken from: Free Grace Broadcaster. Issue 233, international edition, The Lords Day, B.B.Warfield, Sunday: The World’s Rest Day, 2015, Chapel Library, p.16