J.C. Ryle on the Sabbath (Part 1)

Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. (ESV)

“Our Lord Jesus Christ does not do away with the observance of a weekly Sabbath day.”

He neither does so here nor elsewhere in the four gospels.  We often find His opinion expressed about Jewish errors on the subject of the Sabbath; but we do not find a word to teach us that his disciples were not to keep the Sabbath at all.

It is of much importance to observe this.  The mistakes that have arisen from a superficial consideration of our Lord’s sayings on the Sabbath question are neither few nor small; thousands have rushed to the hasty conclusion that Christians have nothing to do with the fourth commandment and that it is no more binding on us than the Mosaic law about sacrifices: there is nothing in the New Testament to justify any such conclusion.

The plain truth is that our Lord did not abolish the law of the weekly Sabbath: He only freed it from incorrect interpretations, and purified it from man-made additions.  He did not tear out of the decalogue the fourth commandment: He only stripped off the miserable traditions with which the Pharisees had incrusted the day, and by which they had made it, not a blessing, but a burden.  He left the fourth commandment where he found it – a part of the eternal Law of God, of which no jot or tittle was ever to pass away.  May we never forget this!

Saving Christianity is closely bound up with Sabbath observance.  May we never forget that our great aim should be to “keep the Sabbath holy!”  Works of necessity may be done: “it is lawful to do well”, and show mercy; but to give the Sabbath to idleness, pleasure-seeking or the world, is utterly unlawful.  It is contrary to the example of Christ, and a sin against a plain commandment of God.

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