A. H. Lewis, D. D., LL. D.

One can not take up the history of an institution like the Sabbath at any given point without considering its history previous to that point and its character and standing at the point where the consideration begins. Before the time of Christ the Sabbath had held a prominent place in the life of God's ancient people. Much of the religious and social life of the Hebrews gathered around the Sabbath because it was God's representative among the days, and their oft-recurring day of worship. During the centuries more immediately preceding Christ, excessive ceremonialism and non-spiritual formalism had crept into all departments of the Jewish church. Because of its prominence, the Sabbath was especially affected by this formalism and by unscriptural restrictions and evasions.

These restrictions and evasions were burdensome, many of them foolish, and their adoption cultivated the spirit of dishonesty and disobedience. There were thirty-nine principal occupations which were prohibited on the Sabbath. These occupations were varied by subordinate distinctions as to places where they might occur; for example, "a public place," a "private place," a place which is "neither public nor private," and a "free place." The last being described as "that which is more than three hands deep or high, but not more than four hands square in width." Examples of these restrictions are as follows:

If a beggar reaches his hand within a house and gives or takes something from the hand of the master, the beggar is guilty and the master is free. A man must not sit before the barber near to evening prayer until after he hath prayed. A tailor must not go out with his needle late on Sixth-day afternoon nor the scribe with his pen, lest they forget and carry these implements on the Sabbath. One may not light a lamp with cedar moss, nor with unbroken flax, nor floss silk, nor wick of willow, on the Sabbath. A man may extinguish a lamp on the Sabbath if he fears the heathen, or robbers, or an evil spirit, or that the sick may sleep. If he extinguishes the lamp that he 'may save the lamp, the oil, or the wick, he is guilty of sin. A male camel may be led forth on the Sabbath with a headstall, but a female camel must be led by a nose ring. A woman may not' go out on the Sabbath with laces of wool or flax, nor with straps on her head. A man may not go out with hob-nailed sandals, nor with one sandal, unless the unsandalled foot is sore. A woman may not go out carrying a needle having an eye, nor wearing a signet ring, nor a spiral head-dress, nor a bottle of musk. A cripple may not go out wearing a wooden leg. If a man does one principal work, and twenty secondary works on the Sabbath they will be regarded as one sin. The thirty-nine principal works are these:

"Sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sifting, grinding, riddling, kneading, baking, shearing wool, whitening, carding, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two spools, weaving two threads, taking out two threads, hoisting, loosing, sewing two stitches, tearing thread from two sewings, hunting the gazelle, slaughtering, skinning, salting, curing its skin, tanning, or cutting it up, writing two, letters, erasing in order to write two letters, building, demolishing, quenching, kindling, hammering, carrying from private to public property. Lo, these are the principal works -- forty less one."

A priest might replace a plaster on a wound in the temple on the Sabbath, but not elsewhere. One might borrow jars containing wine, or oil on the Sabbath, but he must not say: "lend it to me." Through many other restrictions, similar to these, insincerity was cultivated, in that a large number of actions were reckoned as "commixtures" or "connections," entitled "Erubin" in the Talmud. These commixtures were of every conceivable sort, notably those pertaining to traveling on the Sabbath, in order to evade the commandment, "Abide ye every man in his own place, let no man go out of his place on the Sabbath-day."


One of the prominent features in Christ's work was the condemnation of these false restrictions concerning the Sabbath. By precept and example he denounced this formalism, ignored these restrictions, and taught those larger views and better practices concerning the Sabbath which fitted it for a place in his Kingdom. His opposition to the false notions of the Jews increased their enmity 'toward him and toward the development of Christianity. They could not rise high enough to appreciate the true view of the Sabbath which he presented, while their religious zeal and national pride spurred them into more bitter opposition to Christ because of his attitude toward these false notions concerning the Sabbath. Thus the correct conception of the Sabbath became a strong and permanent barrier between the Jewish leaders and Christ, and the Christian movement within the Jewish church.


It is clear from the history of Christianity after the New Testament period that there was a strong tendency on the part of Gentile converts to object to the Sabbath as a Jewish institution. With the death of the apostles and the passage of Christian history westward from Palestine, the men of culture who became associated with Christianity were nearly all from the ranks of Grecian and Roman Pagan philosophers. For generations there had been strong dislike of the Hebrews because of their unwillingness to grant any recognition to the various heathen deities. The attitude of the Jews toward Christ because of his teachings concerning the Sabbath, gave new impetus to this anti-Jewish prejudice, and as Pagan leaders became prominent in the development of the Christian church, their opposition to all Sabbath-keeping became more pronounced.

Beginning with Justin Martyr, about the middle of the second century, these leaders gave utterance to the largest type of no-Sabbathism, claiming that the Sabbath was only a Jewish institution, that Jehovah to whom it was sacred was only an inferior deity, and that the Old Testament had little or no binding force upon any but Hebrews. This doctrine with its attendant errors, was one of the leading influences which changed Christian history, soon making it more Pagan than of Christian, according to the standard set by Christ and his immediate followers. Hence a sharp struggle ensued in which the Sabbath maintained its place with the common people long after it was theoretically set aside through the influence of the Pagan-Christian leaders. That struggle continued for four or five centuries.


Through the combined influence of ancient Sun worship and the tradition that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, in which fact men sought to find an analogy between the risen Christ and the rising sun, the Sun's day together with many other Pagan festivals found a place in the Christian church under the growing influence of Roman Paganism and the political influences which were brought to bear upon Christianity in the Roman Empire. When Christianity ascended the throne of the Caesars, early in the fourth century, it was destructively remodeled according to the genius of the Pagan state-church. In that remodeling, the Sunday and other Pagan festivals were supported by the Civil power, while public opinion and civil legislation combined to degrade and drive out the Sabbath. Thus the struggle went forward for four or five hundred years until the full development of the Roman Catholic church and the completed union of church and state in the declining Roman Empire practically annulled the Sabbath in the Roman branch of the Christian church.


The term "Dark Ages" is used here in a general sense to cover the time from the fifth to the fifteenth century. During that time the Papacy never succeeded in driving the Sabbath wholly from its dominions. There is much evidence showing that as the Roman church gradually expelled the Sabbath, those who were loyal to the law of God and the practices of the apostolic church, stood firm, regardless of excommunication and persecution. Dissenters who kept the Sabbath, existed under different names from the time of the Pope to the Reformation. They were either the descendants of those who fled from the heathen persecutions previous to the time of Constantine, or else those who, when he began to rule the church and force false practices upon it, refused submission, and sought seclusion and freedom to obey God. In their earlier history they were known as Nazarenes, Cerinthians and Hypsistarii, and later, as Vaudois, Cathari, Toulousians, Albigenses, Petrobrusians, Passagii, and Waldenses. We shall speak of them in general, under this latter name. They believed the Romish church to be the Anti-Christ, spoken of in the New Testament.. Their doctrines were comparatively pure and Scriptural, and their lives were holy, in contrast with the ecclesiastical corruption which surrounded them. The reigning church hated and followed them with its persecutions. In consequence of this unscrupulous' opposition, it is difficult to learn all the facts concerning them, since the only available accounts have come to us through the hands of their enemies. -Before the age of printing, their books were few, and from time to time these were destroyed by their persecutors, so that we have only fragments from their own writers. At the beginning of the twelfth century they had grown in strength and numbers to such an extent as to call forth earnest apposition and bloody persecution from the Papal power. Their enemies have made many unreasonable and false charges concerning their doctrines and practices, but all agree that they rejected the doctrine of "church authority," and appealed to the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice. They condemned the usurpations, the innovations, the pomp and formality, the worldliness and immorality which attended the development and supremacy of the Romanized church. They made the Bible their only standard of faith and practice and rejected all changes and additions which the Roman Catholics had made. Benedict in his history of the Baptists says of the Waldenses:

"We have already observed from Claudius Seyssel, the popish archbishop, that one Leo was charged with originating the Waldensian heresy in the valleys, in the days of Constantine the great. When those severe measures emanated from the Emperor Honorius against rebaptizers, the Baptists left the seat of opulence and power, and sought retreats in the country, and in the valleys of Piedmont; which last place, in particular, became their retreat from imperial oppression."

Rainer Sacho, a Roman Catholic author, says of the Waldenses:

"There is no sect so dangerous as Leonists, for three reasons: first, it is the most ancient; some say it is as old as Sylvester, others, as the apostles themselves. Secondly, it is very generally disseminated; there is no country where it has not gained some footing. Third, while other sects are profane and blasphemous, this retains the utmost show of piety; they live justly before men, and believe nothing concerning God which is not good."

Sacho admits that they flourished at least five hundred years before the time of Peter Waldo. Their great antiquity is also allowed by Gretzer, a Jesuit, who wrote against them. Crantz, in his "History of the United Brethren," speaks of this class of Christians in the following words:

"These ancient Christians date their origin from the beginning of the fourth century, when one Leo, at the great revolution in religion under Constantine the Great, opposed the innovations of Sylvester, Bishop of Rome. Nay, Rieger goes further still, taking them for the remains of the people of the valleys, who, when the Apostle Paul, as is said, made a journey 'over the Alps into Spain, were converted to Christ."

The extent of their position and influence is shown by the fact that in the thirteenth century, from the accounts of Catholic historians, all of whom speak of the Waldenses in terms of complaint and reproach, they had founded individual churches, or were spread out in colonies in Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Bohemia, Poland, Lithuania, Albania, Lombardy, Milan, Romagna, Vicenza, Florence, Velepenetine, Constantinople, Philadelphia, Sclavonia, Bulgaria, Diognitia, Livonia, Sarmatia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Briton, and Piedmont.


These widely scattered Sabbath reformers were our denominational ancestors, in fact, if not by direct organic connection. Through them we are in touch with the last representatives of the Sabbath-keeping apostolic church, and with the first genuine Protestants. This fact is set forth by many of the older writers of the Reformation Period, and by Cox and Hessey, the two ablest English writers of the last century on the Sabbath question. The Sabbath found little recognition on the continent of Europe during the first stage of the Lutheran movement. As Protestant principles were more definitely formulated, and the Second General Stage of the Reformation was developed in England, the Sabbath question underwent a radical change. English Seventh-day Baptists were brought out and organized and our present denominational life began. It is not the province of this paper to deal with that phase of our history, but the results of the survey made in this paper support and emphasize the fact that this centennial year is an epoch in the history of Sabbath-keeping Christians which links us with the earliest Seventh-day Baptist churches, those which were founded by the Sabbath-keeping Christ, Lord of the Sabbath and Head of the church universal. Herein is an honor too lightly prized, and a sacred trust too little appreciated. This persistent perduring of the Sabbath in spite of opposition and obloquy is highest proof of .its value in the eyes of God who overrules the affairs of men in history.

Standing at this point in the history of Seventh-day Baptists, the example of Christ and his teachings concerning the Sabbath ought to be given first place. He is supreme authority as to the interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Being a Jew and the Messiah of God, he was not only the founder of Christianity, but the authoritative interpreter of Judaism, and of the relation of the Ten Commandments to the kingdom of God and the Christian church. The basis of Sabbath- keeping, at the present time, is found in the interpretation which Christ made and in the example which he set. Too much importance can not be given to the fact that what Christ said and did concerning the Sabbath was by way of pruning it.-as one prunes over-growth from a vine. He interpreted the Fourth Commandment and purified the Sabbath from formalism and false casuistry, that it might be fitted for its place in the New Dispensation. The almost universal, popular error concerning the Sabbath under the Christian Dispensation has come because men have assumed that Christ discarded the Sabbath instead of cleansing and uplifting it, thus fitting it for a new place and a higher mission. Upon that broad basis the faith of Seventh-day Baptists finds secure foundation. Even they have not fully appreciated the value of appealing to Christ as the first and foremost authority in all matters connected with Sabbath observance. It is to be hoped that this anniversary of our Conference may induce such a restudy of Sabbath-keeping and of the work now demanded of us, as will place Christ and his interpretation of the Sabbath more prominently before us and before the world. His own words -- "The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath day"-- have a far deeper meaning than is usually apprehended. The Jews complained because Christ discarded and condemned their formalism and disobedient evasions in the matter of Sabbath-keeping. Christ gave a larger interpretation and new meaning to each of the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath law. He did not weaken nor discard the commandment. He did reject and condemn those false interpretations which the Jews had heaped upon it. Let us begin the work of the coming century from a higher denominational standpoint than ever before -- the standpoint of the law of God, interpreted by Christ and enforced by his example.

Reprinted from "Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America" Volume 1, 1910 pp. 11-18