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The Sabbath - George Abbot, Dealing with Objections.

George Abbot (1604-1649) (not to be confused with Archbishop George Abbot, a translator of the King James Bible), was an English lay theologian and capable scholar known as "the Puritan". He attended the preaching of Richard Baxter, who in his Practical Works (page 879) referred to Master Abbot affectionately as "my dear friend".

Abbot's most famous work was "The Whole Book of Job made easy for any to understand" (1640), which stood in marked contrast to the prolixity of contemporary writers and displayed his ardent love and desire to educate all in spiritual matters. It may then be no surprise that Master Abbot was also involved in the Sabbath Controversy of the early to mid 17th century, in which he ably defended the doctrine of the true Sabbath disputing with and answering the objections of, amongst others, Anti-Sabbatarian Thomas Broad.

The Puritan sets out his arguments for the Christian Sabbath and treats of these objections in his seminal Vindiciæ Sabbathi, or, An answer to two treatises of Master Broad's the one, concerning the Sabbath or seaventh day, the other, concerning the Lord's-day or first of the weeke : with a survey of all the rest which of late have written upon that subject (1641).

God willing I hope to present a number of Master Abbot's answers to Master Broad, and in doing so set out the binding moral nature of the Fourth Commandment.

We begin first with the response to Broad's use of the perceived authority of Calvin and of antiquity and Abbot's counter argument.

Note: The writer has updated the spelling, grammar and language of the original work and it is sincerely hoped that such revisions have not detracted from the intent or meaning of Masters Abbot and Broad.


Question by Master Broad

I published not long since a treatise of the Sabbath having this title, Tractatus de Sabbatho in quo doctrina Ecclesiae primitivae tractatur & defenditur. And for proof, that the doctrine of the primitive Church was such, as is therein taught and declared, besides certain sayings of Augustine and others. I alleged the testimony of Master Calvin in his Institutions. If any be able to show that we (Master Calvin I mean and myself) have mistaken the doctrine of the primitive Church in this matter. I greatly marvel, that they have not gone about it before this time. If none be able to show this, as it seems none are (for doubtless many want no will) then is it no less to be marvelled at. That the doctrine of the primitive Church finds no better entertainment amongst English Protestants. Is it credible that the primitive Church should not keep one of God’s Commandments? That such a grievous error should befall the godly learned Fathers, as to esteem that Commandment shadowy and temporal, which is moral and perpetual?

Answer by Master Abbot

Here you would seem to beg credit to your opinion by Master Calvin’s authority who because he quotes the exposition of the ancients in this case, you would insinuatingly persuade to give some countenance to your tenet. But that the World may know, how he held in this particular, his opinion is sufficiently manifested in his commentary on Gen. 2. where he says, that first God rested, and that then he blessed this rest, that in all ages among men it might be holy, or he dedicated every seventh day to rest, that his example might be a perpetual rule. Moreover we must know (saith Calvin) this exercise is not peculiar to one either age or people only, but common to all mankind. Wherefore when we hear that by Christ’s coming the Sabbath was abrogated, this distinction must be taken too. What appertains to the ordering of human life, and what peculiarly agrees to the old signs. That the Sabbath figured the mortification of the flesh (I say) was temporal, but that from the beginning it was commanded men that they should exercise themselves in the worship of God it ought deservedly to endure even to the end of the World. And besides this, he that observes what follows upon 'his instance of the ancients’ in his Institutions, shall find that there he says how that though they say true, yet they touch but half the matter. And therefore doth he largely discuss it afterwards, wherein he shows his opinion to be this much, that the institution of the Sabbath for the better and more solemn performance of God’s worship and refreshment of his creature, was with a perpetual intent, because of necessary use to all men in all times, but in regard it was again given to the Jews it had somewhat peculiar in it, which by Christ is abrogated, and yet the force, use and reason of the commandment in regard of its substance, as it was given both at the first, and as it was repeated doth still remain. So that he confessed that there was something peculiar to the Jews which hung at it, but that withal there is a substance in the commandment itself which it is sacrilege to violate, the use thereof being universal both to persons and times, so that in alleging him you bring in, testem sine testimony [call without evidence].

And put case [to suppose] there was some what, that was more proper to those people and those times, then to these in this fourth commandment as well as in the first and fifth (for as I have said, almost all scripture had some circumstantial peculiarity and propriety to those people and those times to whom it was immediately given, which yet nothing hindered the universality of the substance) yet as the reasons in those commandments evangelically construed are of present force and being, even in these our times, though the letter strictly construed be not: so this commandment, or the Sabbath may have somewhat more proper to them in it (for so is that manner of expression the stranger within their gates) or at least belonging to it (such as was their not preparing Mannah, and kindling of fires) which yet is so far from extinguishing the whole commandment, as that the very type it self is of lively use to us under the Gospel, and of present force and being also (although not therefore of a like religious nature to us as it was to them) but in an Evangelical sense, that is in respect of the inward and spiritual holiness thereof, not properly of the outward and literal. For though the outward sanction of that rest being admitted to be typical may be extinct, because that the typicalness of things are not properly parts but accidents, and conducing helps to our profession and worship that live under the Gospel: which if true and real is spiritual, John. 4. Yet is not the holy use of this rest extinct, either as it is conducing or necessary to the present sanctifying of the Lord’s day, or as it is significative, pointing us to, and reminding us of our heavenly Sabbatisme.

Objection: But you will say, how can we reject the typical holiness and yet retain the sense?


1. We refuse the whole Law as a covenant, and yet we retain it as a rule, for the perfection of that Church respectively to the foregoing times (which is called the time of nature) belongs to us; but the imperfection of it respectively with our Church, ended with itself, and belongs not to us.

2.If the Sabbath had had its original after a Jewish manner, to have been instituted upon the fall, and so to relate to Christ, then we could have retained it no more then the rest, but we derive this from the primitive institution in paradise principally, and from the Jews only by way of enforcement or conveyance, as we do water first from the fountain and then from the pipe. And though this rest had in it a typical signification at first, yet never a typical sanction, but only by accident of the Jewish discipline then, when types were in fashion; (as I may so speak) like a fresh river which running through a piece of the sea is made brinish [salty], but being quit of it, it re-assumes its own nature.

So that then the commandment is not abrogated as a special commandment, but the speciality which belonged to the Sabbath, or to this general commandment is rather ended, which did consist of those occasional interventions of Mannah, kindling fires, and double sacrifices, and (if you will) of the foresaid sanction of the very rest it self (which as I have said being significative, happily had in their times an holiness belonging to it) which did peculiarly belong unto the Jews, and which were no parts of the substance of this commandment, which in that respect is as well common to us as to them, the reason annexed being of like and equal force to all from the creation. For the annexing of extrinsic and adventitious circumstances, doth not any way harm the nature, and morality of the Sabbath, no more then Paul’s circumcising of Timothy (which in respect of the season was needful) did annul, or do injury to baptism: nor then a sign of an Inn or shop being pulled down, annuls or impairs an house.

So that their rest is common to us but in a riper sense, for the growth and stature of our times so much overtopping theirs, the Lord looks that we should answer his expectation, as well as obey his commandment, in sanctifying a more excellent and Evangelical Sabbath to him, then ever they were able to do.

The Church of the New Testament (says Master Perkins) has more knowledge and more grace than the people of the Old Testament had, and in that regard ought to have more zeal and greater alacrity in the worship of God then they had, that it may exceed the Jews according to the measure of grace received. The arguments of love being not so forcible to prompt obedience, in the time of the Jews, as in ours, they being under the old covenant, and the Spirit not so stirring then, as now, the obedience was rather performed to the commandment then to the commander; For God in their time passed under the name of a Lord, implying them to be servants, and their obedience to be serviceable obedience, but now in our times he passes under the name of a Father, implying us to be sons and our obedience to be filial and spiritual. And yet as spiritual obedience was, even then, due to God, and expected by him, though not with that eminency of expectation, as of us: So the types and sacramental umbrages which now are of use to us (being performed in conscience to God’s commandment) have their holiness suitable and respective to our times; but not in that degree, not in that kind of positive and intrinsical holiness as in the times of the Jewish non age. Like as in the spring time while the sap is weak and but coming, all that we expect from trees is flowers, but when a riper season comes, then we look for riper fruit; so that then the prime and beauty of these flowers ceases, though their virtue remain. And by the punishment that God so severely annexed to the not performing the rites of the two sacraments, we may see the extraordinary nature of things of that kind then, in the time of their Pedagogy; for he that was uncircumcised and that ate leavened bread in the Passover, was to be cut off. And therefore did God intend their rest (as may well be gathered) to be a positive part of their sanctification, because of the typical use thereof, which yet he does; not do to us, and yet he accounts our not resting a profanation of the Sabbath, and all employments which hinder his worship and conduce not to the sanctifying of that day to be sins. Like as Christ who, whilst he was upon the earth, accepted small things at his Apostles hands, but after he was ascended and had given gifts unto men he looked for other services: or as a Pater-familias that having a boy and a man to wait at his table, the boy if he can fill a cup of beer, and shift a trencher [large item of table-wear], by reason of his non-age, he is willing to take it as a good part of his service, but to his man he gives better wages, and therefore expects better service at his hands, he looks that he should be able to furnish and clear the table with grace to his Master, and yet not to neglect those lesser things. Or (which better expressing my meaning) as of children we require a bodily service in saying their prayers and graces and catechism, and though they have little, or no understanding and sense of that they say, yet we take it in good part till they attain to more knowledge and ripeness of years, and then we look for suitable performance thereto. Even so the Lord he expects from us an high degree of sanctifying his Sabbath, even a ravishment of Spirit, which service we can never perform if we do not rest.

A Christian and Evangelical use therefore of this Sabbatical rest is still in force to us, though the Jewish sanction may be determined, for their precise resting was with respect to the formal holiness in the rest; but we are to rest with respect to its final holiness of furthering God’s more substantial worship, and the spiritualising our own minds by it, and thus doth the whole commandment for substance and use remain to us, the difference being only in some occasional circumstances, as:

Firstly, because the Sabbath's rest was significative from the beginning it might in their times (as I have said) carry with it a typical or external holiness (as their other types had which notwithstanding were of a far different nature and institution to this, for they were appointed since the fall and occasioned by it, and in themselves temporary, but this was before the fall, and given for ever to the whole Church for a standing type) which yet it doth not to us, and yet so as the primary force and use of this is no less appertaining to us than them. For so, that other ordinance which was instituted in innocency (marriage) it also lasted in respect of diverse circumstances of their times and discipline, which yet we retain pure from the first institution.

Secondly, we under the Gospel have also an alteration made of the individual but not of the numerical day, for we now keep the seventh day (according to the commandment, remember that thou keep holy the seventh day) but not theirs.

Thirdly, in respect also of the reason whereupon the commandment was enforced upon them, that is to say, God’s resting from the creation; for whilst the law or first covenant was in force, the creation was in force, which still remains with us, but subordinated to the adequate reason of our Sabbath; where to use Master Dow’s words. All laws being only positive (though made by God himself) admit mutation (at least) when the matter concerning which, or the conditions of the persons to whom, they were given is changed. (For as the Jewish types, so many gross and sensitive grounds and reasons are pilled of, and swallowed up by the coming of Christ, and more spiritual ones risen in their stead) As we see it very apparent in Isaiah 65:17. “I will” (saith God) “create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind.” Which to me seems a pertinent prophecy of the alteration of the Sabbath from the Jews day to ours; it being as much as to say, that in comparison of the excellency of the things that shall be under the Gospel, the other things shall be nothing worth: Sense shall be swallowed up of Spirit, types of truth; And though the creation be admirable of itself, and so also is at this day, the consideration of it being exceeding useful, yet nothing comparable to our redemption: Our rejoicing in the one is nothing comparable to our rejoicing in the other. As a right worthy Doctor (Sibbes by name) observes, “God’s last works are his best works, the first being but preparatives and occasions of the later; the new Heaven and the new Earth are the best; the second wine, that Christ created himself, was the best: Spiritual things are better then natural.” And Master Dow says as much that the reason drawn from the example of God who rested upon the Sabbath, namely, when the creation was finished, endured only till the time of the new creation, in which all things were made new by Christ, at which time it ceased, or at least, a second reason taken from the new covenant coming in place, the former both reason and day (become now old) are passed away; and behold all things are be∣come new. For this work of redemption or new creation being the greater may deservedly take place of the other; and as the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer 23:7-8), speaking of the deliverance, that God would vouchsafe his people from the Babylonish captivity, saith: Behold the days shall come (saith the Lord) that it shall no more be said, the Lord liveth that brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, but the Lord liveth that brought them up from the land of the North: so may we say of the day appointed for his worship, that the day wherein he finished the work of creation shall no more be observed, but the day wherein our Lord Christ, by his resurrection from the dead finished the work of our redemption.

Thus speaks Master Dow.

And however in other things the constitution of the Jewish Church and ours differ, yet in this they are united, the Sabbath being first ordained, before there was distinction made, or wall of partition built, for an ever-lasting sign between God and his Church for his sanctifying it, and a perpetual rule of duty and practise chalked out to his Church, for the direction of his more solemn worship. Like as was his marrying of Adam and Eve in innocency, both a perpetual type of that union which is between God and his Church, as also a perpetual rule for the ordering of that affair amongst mankind ever after: both which were alike given in innocency, and were alike both perpetual rules and perpetual types unto his Church.

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