Each of us has doctrines we hold to without properly examining them in light of Scripture – that’s how we are wired as humans. This comes into play on this notion of Christian Sabbath keeping which was first invented by early Roman Catholics in the 6th century and codified in paedobaptists’ system of theology a thousand years later. Now it is a tightly held tradition by many; and many who love this teaching celebrate any work that supports their perspective – which does their argument no good. Walter Chantry’s book, Call the Sabbath a Delight, is such a work. In my two years of researching this subject, this book did more to convince me this “Christian Sabbath” is not defensible from Scripture than anything written against this doctrine. The best thing about this book is that it’s small and short.
by Walter Chantry – a critical review
Walter Chantry was born and raised in a Presbyterian home and graduated from a Presbyterian school (Westminster Theological Seminary). This is something worth mentioning, as it’s obvious he was heavily influenced by our paedobaptist brothers. Let each one of us realize we are likewise influenced by what we’ve taught and think is “so” and need test all things in light of God’s holy Word. In the introduction to this book, Chantry starts off presuming the Decalogue (not called the Ten Commandments until the New Geneva Bible) equals God’s moral law. Since this is foundational to his entire argument, it needs some explanation and defense, not mere assertion – but our author provides none. Perhaps he assumes everybody knows this or accepts it. Why this is problematic will be shown later. This short introduction to his book sets his premise, in which he comes across very much like the folks in the movie, Divided: just as the movie implied teenagers were going to hell because the right church program was not available, so Chantry paints a picture of a culture hell-bound because people have turned their back on the so-called Christian Sabbath: “We should consider it nothing less than shockingly unacceptable for Bible teachers and ministers to undermine the practice of the worship and service of God by teaching against the Sabbath law.” This pragmatic streak is another thing that shows up throughout this book. But we know, God saves His elect through the gospel people; salvation does not come through the Law or through behavior modification.
In chapter 1, Chantry quotes Ex 20:8-11 and calls it the 4th commandment. Does anyone think the tablets God wrote on contained all those words for the “4th Word”? By assuming all the words in these verses are the commandment, he fails to see the ceremonial, judicial, civil, etc. content in this and several of the commandments. He considers all of Ex 20:3 – 17 to be “the Ten Commandments”, summing up God’s moral law. If the 10 Words on the first set of tablets is God’s moral law, why do we not have those 10 Words clearly preserved in Scripture rather than bound up in words that conveyed the re-issue of the covenant of works to the Hebrew people? And why does the record of the Decalogue differ, particularly in the 4th commandment, between Ex 20 and Deut 5? Our author merely waves this aside, asserting, “as originally given on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20), the fourth law was enforced with an argument from God’s behavior during creation week.” Yes, the Lord gave illumination of His Sabbath command to the Hebrews by pointing back to the 7th day of creation, providing an example of the rest He was commanding the Hebrews to keep. God doesn’t call the 7th day of creation a Sabbath in Ex 20 – but He does use that word to describe the sign He has given the Hebrews. In his effort to defend his position, Chantry claims, “the Ten Commandments per se are free of all ceremonial and judicial peculiarities of the Mosaic covenant.” If this is true, should not the Lord have struck Moses dead for changing His eternal, moral law with he “rehearsed the Ten Commandments to Israel” in Deuteronomy? If by this our author means that embedded in the text of Ex 20:3 – 17 are the “the Ten Commandments per se”, that some of what’s recorded in this passage is not God’s moral law, he should have developed this argument. He leaves us wondering what he means, because he consistently calls “the Ten Commandments” God’s moral law and he does not tell us what he thinks “the Ten Commandments per se” might be. Just as we don’t have an inspired record of “the 10 words”, neither do we have for “the Ten Commandments per se”.
Chantry tells us (page 24) that Rom 2:15 is proof that Adam was given the Decalogue when he was created. This verse tells us that Gentiles without the law of Moses have the works of the law written on their hearts – it does NOT prove Adam was created with the Decalogue written on his conscience as claimed. Further, how could Adam know the Decalogue or any version of the moral law of God prior to having knowledge of good and evil? The law – any law – brings awareness of sin (evil); Adam knew none of this before he ate and his eyes were opened. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve knew the goodness of God; they did not know evil. After he and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God said “the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.” It appears that Adam was given the moral law of God in conjunction with The Fall – not when he was created nor when he walked in innocence.
There is, however, much to agree with in this book – we do get guidance from God as to what is honorable from His moral law, Christians are to be joyful about gathering on the Lord’s Day, he decries the overly rigid rules-based Puritan view of enforcing their Sabbath – which the authors of the WCF had as their baseline for their view. But Chantry, who was raised and educated as a Presbyterian, doesn’t seem to see the difference between the Jews living under the Old Covenant and the children of Abraham according to the promise living in the New Covenant. And he lumps all who don’t see this equivalence into the dust bin of dispensationalism (this line of argument takes up most of chapter 4, providing a platform for Chantry to condemn all who disagree by saying, “Never in Israel or the church did the gospel of salvation by grace through faith promote lawlessness.” This is the bucket all who do not hold his view are thrown into. There is no other position in Chantry’s model: if you are not a Sabbatarian, you are an antinomian. This is, sadly, an all-too-common assertion by Sabbatarians.
Another problem in claiming the Decalogue equals God’s moral law comes into play when Chantry argues for its universal application to all men at all times – implicitly endorsing blue laws and contradicting the historical record of Scripture and all of mankind. Only by Special Revelation can man know he is to worship God on a given day. How can the entire 4th Commandment, as presented herein, be universal when it’s apparent everywhere that many don’t know it, when nowhere in Scripture are any people outside the Mosaic Covenant punished for violating it? Nowhere in general revelation is man given the 7 day week; yet there is every evidence that all men everywhere know murder and robbery, etc. are wrong and all men worship something. God’s moral law is known to man and no man is without excuse. But there is no evidence that weekly rest from labor is part of that moral law; it appears only in context with God’s covenant people. Nowhere in any version of the 10 Commandments are people told to worship God on the Sabbath and nowhere in the Scriptures is the first day of the week called “Sabbath”. Yet we know from Scripture that the saints gathered to worship on the day after the Sabbath. They went to the synagogues to dispute with the Jews on the Sabbath.
He gives conflicting messages, telling us rightly that, as Peter said, we are not to live under the Mosaic law (beginning of chapter 2). But our author makes no effort to separate God’s moral law from the Mosaic Covenant in applying his sabbatarian argument. He cites Isaiah 58:13 & 14 as “a discussion of the Sabbath in all its spiritual beauty. Here is a text in which the Sabbath Law is presented without the drab and unappealing attire of judicial additives.” But Chantry told us in chapter 1 that “the Ten Commandments per se are free of all ceremonial and judicial peculiarities of the Mosaic covenant.” Is he now citing Isaiah 58 as proof against his assertion from chapter 1? He gives superficial attention to Scriptures but spends lots of pages talking about the woeful state of the culture and giving what can only be called pragmatic advice. “Mothers and fathers must work at making the Sabbath a delight to their children. Boys and girls must not come to view the day of worship as grim and repressive.” One cannot muster up nor manufacture “the joy of the Lord”. If mom and dad are new creatures in Christ, they will have joy in the worship, instruction, and fellowship that takes place in a local church. Yes, they will have sin to deal with and must strive for holiness. This should be modeled for their unregenerate small children – those impressionable young people can be easily trained to look like covenant children; but that is a very dangerous role for any person to play. As with the taking of the Lord’s Supper, young people ought to see Christian character and worship but parents ought to know they cannot participate unless they be born again.
Chantry (page 52) says there are some who “the claim that the New Testament is silent on the fourth commandment.” He then shoots himself squarely in the foot by claiming Matt 12:1-14, Mark 2:23- 3:6, Luke 6:1-11, Luke 13:10-17, Luke 4:1-6, John 5:1-18, and John 7:20-24 are New Testament teachings about Christians keeping the Sabbath – “They contain our Lord Jesus’ frequent and extensive teaching on the subject.” All of these passages are records of activity by Christ and/or His disciples doing kingdom work on the Jewish Sabbath with those under the Mosaic Law. He fails to cite the clear and thrice-told declaration (Ex 31:13 – 17, Ez 20:12. Ez 20:20) that the Sabbath is a sign between YHWH and the Jews. Chantry goes on to claim (page 54), that in Mark 2:27-28, Christ points back to creation in defending the continuation of the weekly Sabbath – And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Chantry claims the phrase, “the Sabbath was made”, refers to the 7th day of creation. He compares this passage from Mark to Paul’s very clear tie of creation to marriage – “Paul uses almost an identical formula in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9. ‘Man is not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man.’” Contrary to Chantry’s claim, there is no comparison: Paul clearly cites Genesis 2:18 – 23, but one has to claim Moses used the wrong word in writing Genesis 2:2-3, because he didn’t use the word for Sabbath found in Exodus 20. The Hebrew word for the “rest” God observed on the “seventh” day found in Genesis 2:2-3 is shābat; a primitive root; to repose, i.e. desist from exertion; the word for Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11 is shabbāt; intensive from <H7673> (shabath); intermission, i.e. (specific) the Sabbath. These two are related but are not the same.
He constantly insists the Sabbath was created in the beginning, because God set aside the 7th day as His day of rest, made it holy, blessed it because on it He rested from creation. No mention of Sabbath, no command to man to do anything nor punishment of man for failing to obey this command. Nehemiah (chapter 9 verses 13 & 14) records that God gave the Sabbath to the Jews on Mt. Sinai. The sabbath that Christ says was made for men – not just for the Jews – is that sabbath rest all elect enter into when we are raised to new life in Jesus and cease from our working to be right with God as the Old Covenant demands. Hebrews 4 is not talking about a continuation of the pale, weekly day of the Jewish religion, which was a type and weak imitation of the eternal rest and reconciliation He bought with His blood.
In chapter 5, Chantry inadvertently makes my point – that the moral law of God is not equal to the Decalogue, though it shone through the Decalogue – when he observes that Jesus and the disciples defined moral purity by quoting the Decalogue. When the commandments are quoted in the New Testament, they rarely (once?) include the judicial/ceremonial language contained in Ex 20 and Deut 5. These first century men knew the actual “10 Words” as did their Jewish audiences. And not once does Jesus or His apostles teach or enforce any type of sabbath keeping as described in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession in context of the Christian faith. But Chantry doesn’t see this – he says, “Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a commandment embedded in the code of moral law written by God’s own finger. It is a part of the definition of righteousness.” (page 63) Many theologians like to make much of the fact that God wrote the 10 Words on the first set of tablets, tablets made of stone – which Moses destroyed. The second set of tablets, which probably carved by Moses as commanded by God, were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, along with the jar of manna and Aaron’s rod. This Ark of the Covenant was lost in antiquity, and according the Word of God, is to be forgotten – (Jr 3:15-16): “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.“ Might these “tablets of testimony” (Ex 31:18) of the Mosaic Covenant be types and shadows that point us to something greater, as so much of what God gave Israel in that covenant is properly recognized as? God’s law written on tablets of stone, given to people with hearts of stone, who gathered for worship in a temple of stone. Compare this the new Covenant Jeremiah writes about: God’s people given hearts of flesh to replace their hearts of stone, God’s law written on the tablets of our hearts rather than tablets of stone, and we are God’s temple which is comprised of spiritual stones He is assembling for Himself. Chantry goes on to state (still on page 63),“The ways in which the moral law was applied and the way it was enforced differ greatly when we compare the management of Moses and the management of Christ.” This sounds a whole lot like our paedobaptist argument – that the covenant of Moses is part of the covenant of grace, just under a different administrator.
Chantry is right and correct in pointing out the ancient basis of the covenant of grace, delineating the difference between it and the Mosaic Covenant. His guidance regarding motives, in chapter 6, is solid, although he continues to use dramatic and inaccurate comparisons – calling those who do not align with his view of the first day of the week, lawless, antinomian. This is poor practice. It will take a biblical argument pressed on me by the Spirit of God that convinces me of anything – not a comparison between Christians and the culture.
In his argument about why Christians worship on Sunday, there is no argument – until he describes how the Sabbath was moved to the day after the Sabbath. If one takes the stone tablets as God’s moral law, rather than seeing them as a lens through which His moral law shone in the context of the Mosaic Covenant, then one must find a way to explain how that “which God wrote with His finger” was changed without a command from God. If the entire record in Ex 20 known as the 10 Commandments is considered to be God’s moral law, then one cannot accept changing the day (explicitly called out as the seventh day, not “every seventh day, and not the first); that is as much a part of God’s moral law as is the command to work six days (not five). And the 4th commandment does not command worship – but to keep it holy, set apart, and to abstain from work. But, if one sees God’s moral law as described above – shining through the Decalogue rather than the Decalogue being the source – then we can easily accept this change in the day, seeing the moral principle as the key thing. The Jews were commanded to honor the seventh day; Christ was raised from the dead on the first day and we gather for worship on that day. I know that many theologians agree with Chantry that Heb 4 is a proof text for weekly Sabbath keeping. But the Old Testament type given was a one time entry into temporal rest, just as was Creator God’s one time entering into His rest from Creation work – so why would the rest between these two be other than the one time rest the elect enter into when they are redeemed by Christ and take His light load upon them and find rest in Him? It is a stretch that belies belief to claim this is a weekly Sabbath, something that was a pale shadow of what was promised in Gen 3:15.
In the last chapter, Chantry tries to write off biblical passages that appear to teach that a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath were a shadow of what was to come, Col 2 being “the most striking and troublesome” for the author. “It is apparent that these three texts are describing ceremonial and judicial laws of Moses. … Weekly Sabbath-keeping as required in the fourth commandment does not fit the description of days described in Romans 14, Galatians 4 and Colossians 2.” His argument for this position is tied to his insistence on a creation ordinance – “The weekly Sabbath day is a creation ordinance just as is marriage. Moses said so (Genesis 2:1-3), Jesus said so (Mark 2:27, 28)! So did the author of Hebrews 4:3-4!” That Genesis 2 says nothing about a weekly pattern of rest for men does not come into Chantry’s evaluation of this topic. This pattern of days refers to all of the holy days of the Jews from yearly feasts to the weekly Sabbath, and comes from repeated descriptions of the Mosaic ritual, found in 1 Chron 23:30-31; 2 Chron 2:4, 8:12-13, 31:3; Neh 10:33; Isaiah 1:13-14; Ezek 45:17; and Hosea 2:11. This is another indication that the Mosaic code, of which the Decalogue is part, does not apply to Christian as a law – but as a type or shadow of the Christ to come. Our exodus is not from Egypt; that country is a type for sin and wickedness. The moral law, though it is revealed within the Mosaic code, is eternal and no more uniquely part of that Sinai covenant than the New Covenant is – though the covenant of grace was progressively revealed over time, even within the era of the Mosaic Covenant. His last point addresses “proper Sabbath behavior.” He gives some good counsel on the limits of elders and common sense examples of variation depending on circumstance, but defaults to Jewish rules to guide us. He does finish with a recognition that Sabbath keeping isn’t the “answer to all man’s ills”, but still holds up a Christian imitation of the Jewish rite as a joy for us to keep.
In explaining how the Sabbath day can be changed from the 7th to the 1st day, Chantry accepts the narrative accounts in Scripture which document the fact that Christians met for worship on the 1st day, claiming this does not “cause the entire law to crumble or disappear.” But if the Decalogue and this commandment in particular have no judicial or ceremonial content, then changing from “the seventh day” should take something more substantial. It is a common hermeneutic rule – narrative is not normative; one doesn’t build doctrine from narrative. Why should one be able to change God’s moral law by narrative example?
Regarding the assertion that the Decalogue is or sums up God’s moral law, this is a very complex topic that would benefit from a well researched book being written. One would need to develop the concept of “God’s moral law”, get a handle on what may have been carved on the stone tablets compared to what Moses recited to the Hebrew nation, and examine the biblical history and biblical theology of the relevant texts. If someone knows of such a work, please chime in!
The authors of Chantry’s “List of Outstanding Materials on the Sabbath” is comprised of 18 paedobaptists and 1 Baptist – Erroll Hulse, plus the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter and Larger Westminster Catechisms. This, in itself, tells us where the bulk of support is for Chantry’s position – those who flatten out the covenants and, in an opposite ditch from the dispensationalists, see equality of identity between the church and the nation of Israel.
Give me the joyful gathering of the saints who eagerly come together to worship the Lord and build one another up; I care not to enter into the shadow of what Christ brought to His church.