Early Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 2)
*This post is the latest in a series looking at the Sabbath. Previous posts include: Early Puritan Sabbatarians, Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi, Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians (Part 3), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? (Part 2), Pre-Puritan Sabbatarians? Henry Bullinger on the Sabbath (Part 1), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church (Part 3), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 2), Where is the Sabbath in the Early Church? (Part 1), Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (Part 2), Ecclesiological Implications of the Sabbath (part 1), Sabbath Typology and Eschatological Rest, Paul and the Sabbath, Jesus and the Sabbath, The Sabbath and the Decalogue in the OT, a look at God’s Rest as Prescriptive, an examination of the Sabbath as a Creation Ordinance.
In this post I will continue to examine the sabbatarian thought of Nicholas Bownd, one of the earliest English Puritans to be published on the subject. Specifically, I will show that Bownd believed the sabbath command to be perpetual and moral in nature.
Sabbath Command is Perpetual
Similar to the universal nature of the Sabbath, Bownd also argued for the perpetual nature of the command. Citing “Master [William] Perkins’s,” commentary on Galations 4:10, Bownd writes that these words “‘Six days shalt thou labor, but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,’ are moral and contain a perpetual truth.” Bownd then describes how the heathens search in vain for the proper means, object, and times of worship. Instead, “herein doth the glory of the church and the people of God consist, that the Lord by his word has given them the truth, and has not left them to their own inventions…but as they have the manner of their religion prescribed by God himself; so have they also the time, which he for that purpose has himself sanctified.” God is forever worthy of worship, and has given the church explicit instructions on how to properly ascribe glory to Him. Thus, the Sabbath worship of His people should continue until the Lord Christ returns.
Sabbath Command is Moral
The should found in the previous statement, together with the Perkins quote in the same paragraph, both evidence Bownd’s belief that the Sabbath commands of the Old Testament retain their morally binding status for New Testament believers. Bownd gives several reasons to believe that Christians are “straightly bound to rest upon the Lord’s Day as the Jews were upon their Sabbath.” First, the fourth commandment is one of the moral commandments and it “bindeth as well as them, for they are all of equal authority.” The placement of the Sabbath command inside the moral law (i.e., Ten Commandments) of God makes it a perpetually binding moral standard.
Second, Bownd argues that we are just like the Jews. By that, Bownd means that Christians are in need of God’s moral commands just as the Jews were: “As in keeping ourselves from Images, from blasphemy, from murder, theft, adultery and such like: why should we then imagine that in this one the Lord had privileged us above them [the Jews]?” Third, and related to Bownd’s belief in the perpetuity of the Sabbath command, he argues that there is no reason given in the New Testament to believe the Sabbath command has been removed: “we do not find in the Gospel that Christians have any further liberty granted to them in these days; then we may safely concluded, that Christians are as precisely to rest, as the Jews were.”
This does not, for Bownd, mean that believers are then placed under the yoke of the Law, like the Jews. Rather, Christians are free from the manner of Sabbath observance mandated to the Jews. Believers are not required to do all the demands of the ceremonial law; instead, they have “fewer things to do, and they are more simple, plain, and easy, as the hearing of the word, receiving of the sacraments and prayer.” For Bownd, the moral core of the fourth commandment remains binding, even though the ceremonial yoke of the Jewish dispensation has been lifted. Thus, we see that the fourth commandment, for Bownd, was and is a moral command.
In the next post I will compare the Sabbatarian thought of Bownd to the ideas of Bullinger and Bucer that have been previously discussed. By doing so, i hope to dispel the idea that the English Puritans invented sabbatarian doctrine.
Bownd, Sabbathum Veteris et Noui Testamenti., 66–67.
***Note: This series of posts on Pre-Puritan Sabbatarianism is adapted from: Jon English Lee, “An Examination of the Origins of English Puritan Sabbatarianism,” Puritan Reformed Journal, forthcoming 2015.