Charles Hodge on the Fourth Commandment

Excerpt from “Systematic Theology - Volume III”

All the Mosaic laws founded on the permanent relations of men either to God or to their fellows, are in like manner adopted in the Christian Code. They are adopted, however, only as to their essential elements. Every law, ceremonial or typical, or designed only for the Jews, is discarded. Men are still bound to worship God, but this is not now to be done especially at Jerusalem, or by sacrifices, or through the ministration of priests. Marriage is as sacred now as it ever was, but all the special laws regulating its duties, and the penalty for its violation, are abrogated. Homicide is as great a crime now as under the Mosaic economy, but the old laws about the avenger of blood and cities of refuge are no longer in force. The rights of property remain unimpaired under the gospel dispensation, but the Jewish laws regarding its distribution and protection, are no longer binding. The same is true with regard to the Sabbath. We are as much bound to keep one day in seven holy unto the Lord, as were the patriarchs or Israelites. This law binds all men as men, because given to all mankind, and because it is founded upon the nature common to all men, and the relation which all men bear to God. The two essential elements of the command are that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, that is, of cessation from worldly avocations and amusements; and that it should be devoted to the worship of God and the services of religion. All else is circumstantial and variable. It is not necessary that it should be observed with special reference to the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; nor are the details as to the things to be done or avoided, or as to the penalty for transgression obligatory on us. We are not bound to offer the sacrifices required of the Jews, nor are we bound to abstain from lighting a fire on that day. In like manner the day of the week is not essential. The change from the seventh to the first was circumstantial. If made for sufficient reason and by competent authority, the change is obligatory. The reason for the change is patent. If the deliverance of the Hebrew from the bondage in Egypt should be commemorated, how much more the redemption of the world by the Son of God. If the creation of the material universe should be kept in perpetual remembrance, how much more the new creation secured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If men wish the knowledge of that event to die out, let them neglect to keep holy the first day of the week; if they desire that event to be everywhere known and remembered, let them consecrate that day to the worship of the risen Saviour. This is God’s method for keeping the resurrection of Christ, on which our salvation depends, in perpetual remembrance.

This change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week was made not only for a sufficient reason, but also by competent authority. It is a simple historical fact that the Christians of the apostolic age ceased to observe the seventh, and did observe the first day of the week as the day for religious worship. Thus from the creation, in unbroken succession, the people of God have, in obedience to the original command, devoted one day in seven to the worship of the only living and true God.