Sermons on the Sabbath and the Law



By the patriarchal age is meant the period from Adam to Moses. By moral obligation is meant the duty to observe the precepts of the moral law. The following statement of the apostle Paul relates to this very point, and covers precisely this period of time: SOSL 17.1

“For until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come.” Romans 5:13, 14. SOSL 17.2

Death reigned from Adam to Moses. But the reign of death is proof that sin also reigns; for death owes its empire to sin, and holds its power as a grant from sin. Sin is the supreme ruler, and death is only a subordinate ruler, holding its dominion at the hands of sin. And so the apostle, in verse 21, represents sin as the real ruler. Thus he says: “Sin hath reigned unto death.” So the reign of death from Adam to Moses is, according to Paul, positive and tangible proof that sin not only existed during that entire period, but that it even reigned. SOSL 17.3

But death is only the shadow which sin casts. The presence of death furnishes, therefore, incontestable evidence that sin is also present. And so the apostle makes these two statements: 1. “Until the law sin was in the world.” That is, sin, having entered by Adam’s transgression, remained in possession till the law entered. 2. “Death reigned from Adam to Moses.” That is, death was able to cut down Adam, and to bear undisputed away over all the human family during the whole period of the patriarchal age; one man alone, Enoch, being excepted. Hebrews 11:5. SOSL 17.4

What, therefore, does Paul mean when he says, “Sin is not imputed when there is no law?” One of two answers must be returned. 1. Though sin was in the world from Adam to Moses, yet God did not impute it to those who committed it, because there was no law which they transgressed in sinning; or, 2. the fact that sin was in the world before the law entered by the proclamation of the Lawgiver, shows that the law was really present all the time, and taking cognizance of human conduct; for sin cannot be imputed where there is no law. SOSL 18.1

One of these two views must be true. And we can determine which is true by one simple test. God either did, or did not, impute sin to men in the patriarchal age. If he did not then impute it to the transgressor, the first view is correct, and the law did not exist from Adam to Moses. But if God did impute men’s transgression to them during that age of the world, then the law did exist, and men were held guilty for transgressing it. SOSL 18.2

But it is certain that God did impute sin to the world of mankind during the patriarchal age. The guilt of murder was certainly imputed to Cain. Genesis 4. Sin lay at his door. The voice of his brother’s blood cried to God from the ground. And the ground was cursed because of Cain’s transgression. God did impute the sins of the antediluvians to them, for he determined to destroy the world of mankind by a flood of waters, and he executed this determination (Genesis 7): an awful proof, 1. The sin was imputed in that age; 2. And that, therefore, God’s law did exist; for sin is not imputed when there is no law. Again, the case of Sodom furnishes another proof that sin was imputed to men in the patriarchal age. “The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” Genesis 13:13. The cry of Sodom came up before God, and their sin was very grievous to him. Genesis 18:20. Righteous Lot, dwelling among them, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their UNLAWFUL deeds. 2 Peter 2:8. When God could bear with Sodom no longer, he rained upon it fire and brimstone from himself out of heaven, and the smoke of Sodom went up as a great furnace. Genesis 19. So sin was imputed to the Sodomites, and the law did exist to take notice of their transgressions, or sin could not have been imputed to them. SOSL 18.3

Certainly these are most convincing proofs that the sins of men were imputed to them during the patriarchal age, and hence they furnish a positive testimony that the law did then exist; for otherwise sin could not have been imputed. Yet Paul, wishing to prove the same point, passes over all these mighty facts, and seizes upon another still more mighty and convincing. Paul’s proof that sin was imputed to men before the entrance of the law, and that the law of God did therefore exist from Adam to Moses, is found in the fact that death reigned with undisputed sway during the whole period, showing, 1. That sin was imputed to all mankind, for all died. 2. And thus determining the fact that the law of God did exist during this period, because sin was imputed to all. SOSL 19.1

“The law entered that the offense might abound.” Verse 20. Sin was in the world from the transgression of Adam till the law entered. The law did not enter because the lawgiver expected to put an end to sin by its entrance. He did not misjudge with respect to the effect its entrance would produce. It entered that the offense might abound. Not that God was pleased with sin, and wished to increase its force or its amount. He only wished that the law should cause it to show itself to its full extent, and with all its malignity and wickedness. Sin existed in the world as an all-pervading disease that could not be cured. The law entered to manifest the deadly character of that disease by rousing it into fierce action. Afterward came the great physician, Jesus Christ, with the power to take out the venom of sin, and to restore health to those who were ready to accept it on his terms. SOSL 19.2

One thing is certain, that what constituted sin before the entrance of the law, did continue to constitute it afterward. Sin then showed itself in its utmost magnitude; but it was the same evil thing which God hates as when it did not so fully manifest itself. To use the figure of Paul elsewhere recorded, death killed men by its sting, sin, and the strength by which it strikes the blow, comes from the law of God. 1 Corinthians 15:56. Wherever, therefore, death exists, it is proof that sin also exists; and wherever sin exists, there exists the law of God. Sin is the transgression of the law, and without the law there can be no transgression. 1 John 3:4; Romans 4:15. It follows, therefore, that the existence of death in our world is proof of the existence of the law, for death is the consequence of breaking the law of God. The universal prevalence of death before the public entrance of the law is, therefore, positive proof that the law of God did exist as the great rule of right during the patriarchal age. Death could not strike down men, were it not that in the sight of God’s law their lives were forfeited. Thus death, with his sting, sin, could not have struck down Adam, had not the law of God given strength to the blow. And the law would never have given this strength to death to strike the fatal blow, had not Adam broken that law. This is a convincing proof that the law did really exist at the beginning, and that Adam did not simply transgress a merely ceremonial and unimportant precept concerning the eating of fruit, but that his transgression, which forfeited his life and that of all who have life from him, was one involving direct rebellion against the principles of the moral law. SOSL 20.1

“Death reigned from Adam to Moses.” But death can only reign when it is armed with its fatal dart, sin. And it can never wield that dart except when the law of God gives it strength to strike the blow. But the law will never give its assent to the death of any person until sin has caused that person’s life to be justly forfeited. It is certain, therefore, that the moral law is older than sin. And when Paul seized upon the fact that death reigned from Adam to Moses, to prove that sin was imputed to men, and that the law of God did therefore exist during that period, for without it sin could not have been imputed, he did seize upon the most mighty and convincing proof of the existence of these two great forces, the law of God, and its deadly antagonist, sin. Death is the wages of sin. Sin is the transgression of the law of God. Sin is therefore certainly older than death, and the law of God is, of necessity, older than sin. But death, the youngest of the three, did reign from Adam to Moses. Sin began its reign with Adam’s transgression; and death began to reign in the destruction of mankind when Abel was murdered by Cain. But God’s great rule of right existed before the first act of transgression, and will continue to exist when sin and death shall be destroyed in the gehenna of fire. Sin was certainly imputed to Adam, but it could not have been thus imputed had not the law of God then existed; “for sin is not imputed when there is no law.” And not only did that imputation of sin cause death to seize Adam by the strength of the law, and deprive him of life, but by means of that one transgression, death has passed upon all mankind, though they do not sin as did Adam. Adam was placed upon probation in a state of perfect innocence, that he might become confirmed in virtue. In that trial he failed, and by that failure he forfeited his right to live. His posterity have a period of probation granted them in which to recover that lost innocence, and in the effort to recover it, to become confirmed in virtue. But our life is only a forfeited life, for it is derived from Adam after he had come under the sentence of death. And nothing can so attest the inflexible justice of the law of God, and its continued existence, as the fact that death cuts down all our race, though it was only the first man who, by his own personal act, forfeited the right to live. Our life is derived from that of Adam, and therefore treated by the law of God as forfeited; but in the day of judgment there will be a second attestation of the strict justice of the law, when every sinner shall die the second time for his own personal transgressions. SOSL 20.2

The law of God did therefore exist before death entered our world, and it will continue to exist when the second death shall have destroyed the whole world of sinners. But it is sufficient to say that the reign of death from Adam to Moses proves the existence and the authority of the law of God during that period of time. SOSL 22.1

But the book of Genesis does not contain the law of God. This is an undisputed fact. And because that the law is not found in Genesis, many hasty readers of the Bible earnestly contend that the law was unknown during the patriarchal age, i.e. from Adam to Moses. Now let us see what will follow from such reasoning. There is no precept in Genesis which says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” This precept, therefore, on which hangs all the law relating to our duty to God, was not obligatory upon the people who lived during the period embraced in the book of Genesis. There is no commandment in that book witch says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And so this second precept, on which the other half of the entire law of God is suspended, did not exist during that age of the world. Again, there is no law recorded in the book of Genesis which forbids blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, the neglect of parents, adultery, theft, false witness, or covetousness. And if the reasoning of our opponents be good, then these precepts were not in force in the period from Adam to Moses. But our opponents virtually reply that they will only maintain this kind of argument in the case of the Sabbath, and yield it in the case of all the other precepts enumerated. But why, if this be a good argument against the fourth precept of God’s law, is it not a good argument in the case of the two great commandments on which all the law depends, and in that of all the precepts of the moral law named above? SOSL 22.2

But the book of Genesis plainly implies that there was a moral law in existence, though it does not enter that law upon its record. Thus, murder was a great crime in the case of Cain; Genesis 4; the violation of the fifth commandment was a great sin on the part of Ham; Genesis 9; adultery would have been such in the case of Joseph; Genesis 39; and so of other precepts. But while God’s law does not appear in Genesis, not even in the form of the two great commandments, the existence of his law is expressly named. Thus Abraham is said to have obeyed God’s voice, and to have kept his charge, his COMMANDMENTS, his STATUTES, and his LAWS. SOSL 23.1

And in the case of the Sabbath of the Lord, we have the most direct and forcible answer to render. We do not need to plead for it as we must for the two great commandments, no trace of either of which appears in Genesis. For when we go back to Paradise we find that God first rests upon the day himself, then having spent the day in refreshing rest (see Exodus 31:17), puts his blessing upon the day because of that rest, and sets it apart to a holy use. Thus we have the explicit testimony of this ancient hook that God appointed the seventh day in Paradise itself to a holy use. And though the book of Genesis contains no precept enjoining the sanctification of the Sabbath by mankind, it does contain direct testimony that such precept was given to Adam, the head and representative of the human family. Whatever, therefore, may be said respecting the other precepts of the moral law, it cannot be denied that there was a precept enforcing the observance of the Sabbath in the period from Adam to Moses. SOSL 23.2

But if the patriarchs were under obligation to observe the moral law, why does not the book of Genesis contain that law? How could those ancient men be expected to keep the commandments, if the book of Genesis which covers that period of time does not place those precepts upon record? These questions are asked with such earnestness that they must be answered very explicitly. Know, then, that the book of Genesis was written by Moses after the close of the period concerning which it treats, and long after all the persons whose lives are mentioned therein had gone down to the grave. The book of Genesis was not the rule of life for the people during the patriarchal age. It is simply an extremely brief history of two thousand three hundred and seventy years, and was not written till about one hundred and thirty years after the last event of which it treats had taken place. It is enough, therefore, if the violation of most of the commandments is alluded to as sin, even though the law be not recorded; and that one man is mentioned as keeping God’s commandments; a sure proof, by the way, that God had commandments; and, in particular, that we learn that God appointed the seventh day to a holy use in memory of his own rest from the work of creation. We have ample proof that God’s law existed during this time, though the book of Genesis, written long after the patriarchs were dead, does not contain that code. And now let us consider the circumstances of the patriarchal age with respect to the knowledge of the law of God. The following remarkable passage sheds great light on this point: SOSL 23.3

“For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law; (for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show THE WORK OF THE LAW WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Romans 2:11-16. SOSL 24.1

This passage presents particularly the case of those who have never had the written law of God. It was written with direct reference to the heathen nations, but it makes statements which shed great light on the condition of mankind in the patriarchal age. Here are several points worthy of serious consideration: SOSL 25.1

1. Man has by nature a copy of the law of God upon his heart. Even the Gentiles, in the darkness of heathenism, have this most precious code written upon their hearts. SOSL 25.2

2. The existence of this law within the hearts of men is made by Paul the foundation of conscience. It is that inherent principle in man’s nature that instinctively determines right from wrong. SOSL 25.3

3. Nor does this idea of the existence of the law by nature in the hearts of men conflict with the great promise of the new covenant, “I will put my law in their inward parts” (Jeremiah 31:33), for men have by nature only a marred and partially-obliterated copy. For there exists also in the human heart the carnal mind, which “is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7. What the new covenant proposes to do for men is, to take away the carnal mind and to give them a perfect copy of the law of God upon the tables of the heart. SOSL 25.4

4. In confirmation of the apostle’s statement that “the work of the law” is in the hearts of men “by nature,” take this fact: When the moral law is read, precept by precept, there is something in every breast which responds, “That is right.” And here is, no doubt, the grand difference between the fall of man and that of angels. The fall of man left within his nature a copy of the law, though marred, and in part obliterated. The fall of the angels was so much less excusable, and their sin was against so much greater light, that their moral ruin was complete, and no part of the principles of God’s law remained in their nature. Theirs was strictly total depravity, and their recovery was absolutely impossible. But man retained a copy of the law of God, imperfect indeed, but sufficient to give existence to conscience, and to preserve to man a moral nature capable of loving right and hating evil. SOSL 25.5

5. Man in his fallen condition has in his heart, “by nature,” “the work of the law.” Yet that copy of the law which he possesses is a marred one, inasmuch as the new covenant promises to write the law in the heart, i.e., to give a perfect copy of it in place of that one marred by the fall. Or rather, to perfectly restore that half-obliterated copy already existing there. SOSL 26.1

6. The very fact that man possesses by nature a copy of the law of God, though marred by the fall, clearly indicates that the first man in his unfallen condition had a perfect copy of that law upon his heart. For the new covenant, in restoring man from the ruins of the fall, gives him a perfect transcript of the law upon his heart. The fall did not put the law into man’s heart. It only marred the copy he had there by virtue of his original uprightness. And the great work of conversion, when fully wrought, simply restores what man lost by the fall. There can be, therefore, no mistake on this point, that the first man Adam, in his innocency, had a perfect copy of the law of God in his heart. And in this respect, he was like the second Adam, who says of himself, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, THY LAW IS WITHIN MY HEART.” Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-9. SOSL 26.2

7. Thus we see that the first Adam had a perfect copy of the law of God upon his heart; but, sinning against God, he marred that perfect work, and could only transmit to his posterity a defaced and partially-obliterated copy; but the second Adam, having that law in its perfection upon his heart, and never, in a single particular, marring it, he transmits to all his people a perfect copy of that divine law, writing it by his Spirit upon their hearts. SOSL 26.3

8. What is worthy of special observation is this: The law upon Adam’s heart, and upon the hearts of all men, by nature, is THE SAME LAW that God himself proclaimed to his people. Here is the proof: 1. Those who obey this code, Paul says, “do by nature the things contained in the law.” 2. He tells us that they have “the work of the law written in their hearts.” So God’s law upon stone, and man’s copy by nature upon the heart, are the same, only as sin has marred the writing upon the heart, and rendered it more or less imperfect. SOSL 27.1

9. When the apostle speaks of those that sin “in the law,” he refers to those who have the written law of God; and when he speaks of those that sin “without the law,” he refers to those that have only the law as nature has given it to them upon their hearts. The conscience accuses or approves, according as they refuse, or as they hearken to the voice of this solemn monitor, “the work of the law written in their hearts.” SOSL 27.2

10. And now observe that this law of God to which every man is subject, and which God has planted in every man’s nature, is to be the rule of the Judgment. If we read connectedly verses 12 and 16, omitting the parenthesis, as the rules of language authorize us to do in all such cases, we have the following expressive declaration: “As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” SOSL 27.3

11. And in the day of Judgment the men that shall be justified at its awful tribunal, will be simply the doers of the law of God. Faith justifies the penitent sinner. Faith, which produces good works, is that whereby the Christian maintains his justification. But in the Judgment, works alone will be sought, and then “the doers of the laws shall be justified,” and all others found wanting. SOSL 27.4

Certainly, these facts from the epistle to the Romans have a most important bearing upon the subject before us. Adam had a perfect copy of the law of God upon his heart. After this transgression he still retained that copy, though partially effaced by his departure from God. And all the posterity of Adam in the patriarchal age had each a copy of the law of God in his heart. We may well understand that sin was in the world before the proclamation of the law; and we may be sure that when the law of God did enter it was no new rule of conduct, but God’s ancient and invariable standard of right. The law did not come in as a usurper, nor as a new ruler, but as man’s rightful sovereign, asserting its long-despised authority. SOSL 27.5

Nor were men in the patriarchal age merely accountable to God for this copy of his law upon their hearts. It was an age of great light; in some respects of far greater light than the age in which we live. Though man was expelled from Paradise, God did not remove Paradise from the earth. He placed cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24. There is no reason to suppose that Paradise was removed from the earth till the time of the flood. And thus in the sight of the antediluvians remained the garden of God and the tree of life, and the visible glory of the Almighty. Such a people surely were not in darkness respecting divine truth. SOSL 28.1

Again, Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years. He was the common father of mankind, and the rightful ruler and governor among men. The interest to see him, among the sons of men, must have been very great. And that interest, instead of diminishing, must have increased in intensity as century after century rolled by. Now to Adam the events of creation were almost those of personal observation. Many events of the sixth day passed under his own notice. And the Creator’s act of resting upon the seventh day was to him a matter of personal knowledge. And when he placed his blessing upon that day because he had rested upon it, and when, by solemn appointment, he set it apart to a holy use, Adam stood as the representative of mankind to receive that divine precept, and to promulgate it to his posterity. And we may be sure that Adam instructed his children, to the latest period of his life, in the events of the creation week, and in the sad history of the loss of Paradise. Nor can we justly question the fact that Adam, as the rightful governor of mankind, repeated, with all the solemnity of divine authority, the words of the Creator addressed to himself as the representative of the human family, when he appointed to a holy use the day on which he rested from the work of creation. SOSL 28.2

When Adam was six hundred and eighty-seven years of age, Enoch began his three hundred years’ walk with God. And we do know from the New Testament that he had clear light even concerning the second advent of Jesus Christ. Jude 14, 15. This man, as the contemporary of Adam through the greater part of his own godly life, was not ignorant of the events of the creation week, nor unaware that the Creator had set apart to a holy use the day of his rest from that work of infinite power. And he did not in this plainly-understood duty disobey the divine appointment, for it is said of him that he “walked with God.” And certain it is that an age of the world in which two such men as Adam and Enoch were contemporary for three hundred years, must have been an age wonderfully enlightened with the light of Heaven. Fifty-seven years after Adam had given his last counsels to his sons, God took Enoch to himself. SOSL 29.1

He “was not found,” says Paul, because God had translated him.” Hebrews 11:5. The translation of Enoch made some stir in the world; and search was made for him, as it was afterward under like circumstances for Elijah. He was not found, for he had been taken to the presence of God. SOSL 29.2

But what an age was that for knowledge of divine truth, and especially for the knowledge of everything pertaining to the creation of the world. And still Paradise remained upon the earth. And as if the long life of Adam were not enough to instruct men in divine truth, they had Enoch for almost three hundred years of its closing period; and fifty-seven years after Adam’s death God took Enoch to himself. SOSL 29.3

And it is easy to show that all the knowledge of divine truth possessed by the first man could be transmitted readily to that man who bears, in the Bible, the honored appellation of “the friend of God,” and whose family God chose as the depositaries of his law and of his Sabbath. 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23. For Adam lived till Lamech was fifty-six years of age. Lamech lived till Shem was ninety-three. And Shem lived till Abraham was a hundred and fifty years of age. SOSL 30.1

Enoch lived upon earth till Methuselah was three hundred years of age. Methuselah lived till Shem was ninety-eight years old, and Shem, as we have seen, till Abraham was a hundred and fifty. Thus are we brought down even to the old age of Abraham. And when we see with what facility the knowledge of divine truth could be transmitted from Adam to Abraham, we may well believe that Abraham was ignorant of none of the great truths pertaining to the origin of all things. He certainly could not have been ignorant of the sanctification of the seventh day. And that he was not disobedient to the precepts of God’s law, we have the direct testimony of the Most High, who says of him, “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Genesis 26:5. And of his family government he bears the following honorable testimony: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” Genesis 18:19. Such was the family selected to be the depositaries of divine truth, and we shall next find the Sabbath of the Lord in the possession of this people as an ancient institution. SOSL 30.2