10. The Two Rest Days in Secular History
IN the consideration of the Sabbath and its supposed change, we have now reached an important point. We have had, hitherto, the inspired, unerring word of the Lord as our text book of authority; and we need not discount a single statement it has made on the subject under investigation. We have found the Sabbath of the Lord still standing with undiminished obligation, at the close of the canon of inspiration, at the end of the first century of the Christian era. Now we enter upon a very different order of things. We know that a change of the Sabbath has been attempted, for the majority of professed Christians are found observing the first day of the week and not the seventh. As no account of a change is to be found in the Bible, we must look for it this side of the close of the first century.
The authorities to which we must now look will be the so-called “Christian Fathers,” ecclesiastical historians, the decrees of emperors, and the decisions of councils. We shall find much of fable, contradictory statements, unreliable traditions, and doctrines never taught in the Bible. In the second, third, and fourth centuries, great changes came into the church. It ceased to be the humble, pure Church of Christ and the apostles, but became rather a worldly, popular church, paying more heed to ambition, vain show, the love of supremacy, and traditions of men, and heathen notions, than to the word of God. The great errors which finally culminated in the full development of the Catholic Church, here had their rise.
It is not the design of this comparatively brief treatise to notice all the points and questions raised on the subject of the Sabbath and its change, by the multitude of authors and authorities who have discussed this subject. The History of the Sabbath, by Elder J. N. Andrews, does this in a most thorough and conclusive manner; and all who desire to see every argument raised by first-day authors fully considered, should certainly secure this book. It is a work of great thoroughness, comprising over 800 pages.
Our object in this treatise is to present, in as brief a manner as possible, a connected view of the attempted change of the day, and the authority for it. The authorities we quote will, in almost every case, be those who kept the first day of the week for the Sabbath, as far as they kept any day, and not those who favored the seventh day.
Let us briefly notice some predictions of the Scriptures concerning this period upon which we are now entering, as well as the statements of leading Protestant authors concerning the character of these early times.
The Great Apostasy
“I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29, 30. “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. But after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching cars; and they shall turn away their ears from hearing the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” II Timothy 4:3, 4. “Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [literal Greek, apostasy] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above an that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. . . . For the mystery of iniquity does already work; only he who now lets [hinders] will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming.” II Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7, 8.
These scriptures are very explicit in predicting a great apostasy in the church, the beginning of which was already existing in Paul’s day. It is not enough, therefore, to trace a doctrine or practice back almost or even quite to the days of the apostles; for great errors had their rise in that very period. The real question is, does such a doctrine owe its origin to the Bible? The Roman Catholic Church holds many doctrines which are very ancient, and yet are wholly contrary to the Bible.
The prophet Daniel foretold the rise of a power which should undertake to make great changes even in the law of God. “He shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws [the times and the law, R.V.] and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” Daniel 7:25. The best commentators agree that the Catholic power is here intended. The fourth beast mentioned in the vision of the seventh chapter of this book, is said to be the “fourth kingdom.” Verse 23. This was certainly the Roman kingdom. Rome under the popes was more marvelous than Rome under the Caesars. This power was to “think to change” the times and the law of God. This expression clearly refers to the Sabbath of God’s law. Will history bear out this prediction?
According to the best Protestant authors, what was the character of the religious changes occurring during the second and third centuries, and what credence should we give to the so-called Christian Fathers?
“From Adrian [A.D. 117] to Justinian . . . few institutions, either human or divine, were permitted to stand on their former basis.” (Gibbon’s Decline and Pall of the Roman Empire, chap. 44, par. 7.) Says Robinson, the Baptist historian:
“Toward the latter end of the second century, most of the churches assumed a new form, the first simplicity disappeared, and insensibly, as the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, came forward and new-modeled the cause.” (Ecclesiastes Researches, chap. 6, page 51, Edition 1792.)
Says Mr. Bower, in his History of the Popes:
“To avoid being imposed upon, we ought to treat tradition as we do a notorious . . . liar, to whom we give no credit unless what he says is confirmed to us by some person of undoubted veracity . . . False and lying traditions are of an early date, and the greatest men have, out of a pious credulity, suffered themselves to be imposed upon by them.” (Volume 1, page 1, Philadelphia Edition 1847.)
Dr. Adam Clarke uses the following language concerning the Fathers:
“We should take heed how we quote the Fathers in proof of the doctrines of the gospel, because he who knows them best, knows that on many of those subjects they blow hot and cold.” (Autobiography of Adam Clarke, page 134.)
Martin Luther says:
“When God’s word is by the Fathers expounded, constructed, and glossed, then in my judgment it is even like unto one that strains milk through a coal sack, which must needs spoil the milk and make it black. Even so, likewise, God’s word of itself is sufficiently pure, clean, bright, and clear; but through the doctrines, books, and writings of the Fathers, it is very surely darkened, falsified, and spoiled.” (Table Talk, pages 2-8.)
Says Du Pin, one of the most celebrated and reliable of the Catholic historians:
“It is a surprising thing to consider how many spurious books we find in antiquity, nay, even in the first ages of the church!”
Dr. Clarke says again of the Fathers, in his comments on Proverbs 8:
“But of these we may safely state that there is not a truth in the most orthodox creed that cannot be proved by their authority, nor a heresy that has disgraced the Roman Church, that may not challenge them as its abettors. In points of doctrine, their authority is, with me, nothing. The word of God alone contains my creed.”
We could multiply statements of this kind from eminent authors almost ad infinitum. We have introduced them simply to show how unreliable for authority on religious duties these Fathers are, and what an age of corruption was that portion of the historical field we are considering. Our only safety is to take the Bible alone as authority in matters of religion. By it Paul says the man of God may be “thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
It is in such an age as this, and from such authorities as these Fathers, that the principal evidence of a change of the Sabbath is derived. The ante-Nicean Fathers are those Christian writers who flourished after the time of the apostles and before the Council of Nicea, A.D. 325. As we have seen, the best of authorities, like Dr. Clarke, declare that the Fathers sustain the heresies of the Roman Church, as well as many of the essential truths of the gospel. In short, they lived in that age of transition from the pure truths of the word of God to that great system of corruption which developed into Roman Catholicism.
To bring briefly before the reader a comprehensive statement related to the bearing of the Fathers upon the subject of the change of the Sabbath, we quote from Andrews’s History of the Sabbath, pages 206, 207:
“But next to the deception under which men fall when they are made to believe that the Bible may be corrected by the Fathers, is the deception practiced upon them as to what the Fathers actually teach. It is asserted that the Fathers bear explicit testimony to the change of the Sabbath by Christ as a historical fact, and that they knew that this was so because they had conversed with the apostles, or with some one who had conversed with them. It is also asserted that the Fathers called the first day of the week the Christian Sabbath, and that they refrained from labor on that day as an act of obedience to the fourth commandment.
“Now it is a most remarkable fact that every one of these assertions is false. The people who trust in the Fathers as their authority for departing from God’s commandment, are miserably deceived as to what the Fathers teach.
1. The Fathers are so far from testifying that the apostles told them Christ changed the Sabbath, that not even one of them ever alludes to such a change.
2. No one of them ever calls the first day the Christian Sabbath, nor, indeed, ever calls it a Sabbath of any kind.
3. They never represent it as a day on which ordinary labor was sinful; nor do they represent the observance of Sunday as an act of obedience to the fourth commandment.
4. The modern doctrine of the change of the Sabbath was therefore absolutely unknown in the first centuries of the Christian Church.”
We are now prepared to notice the steps by which the Sabbath gradually lost its position of eminence, and also how the first day of the week gradually usurped its place.