The Complete Testimony of the Fathers of the First Three Centuries Concerning the Sabbath and First Day


Chapter 2

Testimony of the Apostolical Constitutions

“Have before thine eyes the fear of God, and always remember the ten commandments of God, - to love the one and only Lord God with all thy strength; to give no heed to idols, or any other beings, as being lifeless gods, or irrational beings or demons. Consider the manifold workmanship of God, which received its beginning through Christ. Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from his work of creation, but ceased not from his work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands.” Book ii. sect. 4, par. 36. TFTC 13.4

This is sound Sabbatarian doctrine. But apostasy had begun its work in the establishment of the so-called Lord’s day, which was destined in time to drive out the Sabbath. The next mention of the Sabbath also introduces, the festival called Lord’s day, but the reader will remember that this was written, not in the first century, but the third:- TFTC 14.1

“Let your judicatures be held on the second day of the week, that if any controversy arise about your sentence, having an interval till the Sabbath, you may be able to set the controversy right, and to reduce those to peace who have the contests one with another against the Lord’s day.” Book ii. sect. 6, par. 47. TFTC 14.2

By the term Lord’s day the first day of the week is here intended. But the writer does not call the first day the Sabbath, that term being applied to the seventh day. TFTC 14.3

In section 7, paragraph 59, Christians are commanded to assemble for worship “every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house: in the morning saying the sixty-second psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath day. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus and sent him to us.” “Otherwise what apology will he make to God who does not assemble on that day to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection, on which we pray thrice standing, in memory of him who arose in three days, in which is performed the reading of the prophets, the preaching of the gospel, the oblation of the sacrifice, the gift of the holy food.” TFTC 14.4

The writer of these “Constitutions” this time gives the first day great prominence, though still honoring the Sabbath, and by no means giving that title to Sunday. But in book v., section 2, paragraph 10, we have a singular testimony to the manner in which Sunday was spent. Thus the writer says:- TFTC 14.5

“Now we exhort you, brethren and fellow-servants, to avoid vain talk and obscene discourses, and jestings, drunkenness, lasciviousness, luxury, unbounded passions, with foolish discourses, since we do not permit you so much as on the Lords’ days, which are days of joy, to speak or act anything unseemly.” TFTC 15.1

From this it appears that the so-called Lord’s day was a day of greater mirth than the other days of the week. In book v., section 3, paragraph 14, it is said:- TFTC 15.2

“But when the first day of the week dawned he arose from the dead, and fulfilled those things which before this passion he foretold to us, saying: ‘The son of man must continue in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.’” TFTC 15.3

In book v., section 3, paragraph 15, the writer names the days on which Christians should fast:- TFTC 15.4

“But he commanded us to fast on the fourth and sixth days of the week; the former on account of his being betrayed, and the latter on account of his passion. But he appointed us to break our fast on the seventh day at the cock-crowing, but to fast on the Sabbath day. Not that the Sabbath day is a day of fasting, being the rest from creation, but because we ought to fast on this one Sabbath only, while on this day the Creator was under the earth.” TFTC 15.5

In paragraph 17, Christians are forbidden to “celebrate the day of the resurrection of our Lord on any other day than a Sunday.” In paragraph 18, they are again charged to fast on that one Sabbath which comes in connection with the anniversary of our Lord’s death. In paragraph 19, the first day of the week is four times called the Lord’s day. The period of 40 days from his resurrection to his ascension is to be observed. The anniversary of Christ’s resurrection is to be celebrated by the supper. TFTC 15.6

“And let this be an everlasting ordinance till the consummation of the world, until the Lord come. For to Jews the Lord is still dead, but to Christians he is risen; to the former, by their unbelief; to the latter, by their full assurance of faith. For the hope in him is immortal and eternal life. After eight days let there be another feast observed with honor, the eighth day itself, on which he gave me, Thomas, who was hard of belief, full assurance, by showing me the print of the nails, and the wound made in his side by the spear. And again, from the first Lord’s day count forty days, from the Lord’s day till the fifth day of the week, and celebrate the feast of the ascension of the Lord, whereon he finished all his dispensation and constitution,” etc. TFTC 16.1

The things here commanded can come only once in a year. These are the anniversary of Christ’s resurrection, and of that day on which he appeared to Thomas, and these were to be celebrated by the supper. The people were also to observe the day of the ascension on the fifth day of the week, forty days from his resurrection, on which day he finished his work. In paragraph 20, they are commanded to celebrate the anniversary of the Pentecost. TFTC 16.2

“But after ten days from the ascension, which from the first Lord’s day is the fiftieth day, do ye keep a great festival; for on that day, at the third hour, the Lord Jesus sent on us the gift of the Holy Ghost.” TFTC 16.3

This was not a weekly but a yearly festival. Fasting is also set forth in this paragraph, but every Sabbath except the one Christ lay in the tomb is exempted from this fast, and every so-called Lord’s day:- TFTC 16.4

“We enjoin you to fast every fourth day of the week, and every day of the preparation [the sixth day], and the surplusage of your fast bestow upon the needy; every Sabbath day excepting one, and every Lord’s day, hold your solemn assemblies, and rejoice; for he will be guilty of sin who fasts on the Lord’s day, being the day of the resurrection, or during the time of Pentecost, or, in general, who is sad on a festival day to the Lord. For on them we ought to rejoice and not to mourn.” TFTC 16.5

This writer asserts that it is a sin to fast or mourn on Sunday, but never intimates that it is a sin to labor on that day when not engaged in worship. We shall next learn that the decalogue is in agreement with the law of nature, and that it is of perpetual obligation:- TFTC 17.1

In book vi, section 4, paragraph 19, it is said: “He gave a plain law to assist the law of nature, such an one as is pure, saving, and holy, in which his own name was inscribed, perfect, which is never to fail, being complete in ten commands, unspotted, converting souls.” TFTC 17.2

In paragraph 20 it is said: “Now the law is the decalogue, which the Lord promulgated to them with an audible voice.” TFTC 17.3

In paragraph 22 he says: “You therefore are blessed who are delivered from the curse. For Christ, the Son of God, by his coming has confirmed and completed the law, but has taken away the additional precepts, although not all of them, yet at least the more grievous ones; having confirmed the former, and abolished the latter.” And he further testifies as follows: “And besides, before his coming he refused the sacrifices of the people, while they frequently offered them, when they sinned against him, and thought he was to be appeased by sacrifices, but not by repentance.” TFTC 17.4

For this reason the writer truthfully testifies that God refused to accept their burnt-offerings and sacrifices, their new moons and their Sabbaths. TFTC 17.5

In book vi., section 23, he says: “He who commanded to honor our parents, was himself subject to them. He who had commanded to keep the Sabbath, by resting thereon for the sake of meditating on the laws, has now commanded us to consider of the law of creation, and of providence every day, and to return thanks to God.” TFTC 17.6

This savors somewhat of the doctrine that all days are alike. Yet this cannot be the meaning; for in book vii., section 2, paragraph 23, he enjoins the observance of the Sabbath, and also of the Lord’s day festival, but specifies one Sabbath in the year in which men should fast. Thus he says:- TFTC 18.1

“But keep the Sabbath, and the Lord’s-day festival; because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter, of the resurrection. But there is one only Sabbath to be observed by you in the whole year, which is that of our Lord’s burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival. For inasmuch as the Creator was then under the earth, the sorrow for him is more forcible than the joy for the creation; for the Creator is more honorable by nature and dignity than his own creatures.” TFTC 18.2

In book vii., section 2, paragraph 30, he says: “On the day of the resurrection of the Lord, that is, the Lord’s day, assemble yourselves together, without fail, giving thanks to God,” etc. TFTC 18.3

In paragraph 36, the writer brings in the Sabbath again: “O Lord Almighty, thou hast created the world by Christ, and hast appointed the Sabbath in memory thereof, because that on that day thou hast made us rest from our works, for the meditation upon thy laws.” TFTC 18.4

In the same paragraph, in speaking of the resurrection of Christ, the writer says:- TFTC 18.5

“On which account we solemnly assemble to celebrate the feast of the resurrection on the Lord’s day,” etc. In the same paragraph he speaks again of the Sabbath: “Thou didst give them the law or decalogue, which was pronounced by thy voice and written with thy hand. Thou didst enjoin the observation of the Sabbath, not affording them an occasion of idleness, but an opportunity of piety, for their knowledge of thy power, and the prohibition of evils; having limited them as within an holy circuit for the sake of doctrine, for the rejoicing upon the seventh period.” TFTC 18.6

In this paragraph he also states his views of the Sabbath, and of the day which he calls the Lord’s day, giving the precedence to the latter:- the precedence to the latter:- TFTC 18.7

“On this account he permitted men every Sabbath to rest, that so no one might be willing to send one word out of his mouth in anger on the day of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath is the ceasing of the creation, the completion of the world, the inquiry after laws, and the grateful praise to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon men. All which the Lord’s day excels, and shows the Mediator himself, the Provider, the Law-giver, the Cause of the resurrection, the First-born of the whole creation,” etc. And he adds: “So that the Lord’s day commands us to offer unto thee, O Lord, thanksgiving for all. For this is the grace afforded by thee, which on account of its greatness has obscured all other blessings.” TFTC 19.1

It is certainly noteworthy that the so-called Lord’s day, for which no divine warrant is produced, is here exalted above the Sabbath of the Lord notwithstanding the Sabbath is acknowledged to be the divine memorial of the creation, and to be expressly enjoined in the decalogue, which the writer declares to be of perpetual obligation. Tested by his own principles, he had far advanced in apostasy; for he held a human festival more honorable than one which he acknowledged to be ordained of God; and only a single step remained; viz., to set aside the commandment of God for the ordinance of man. TFTC 19.2

In book viii, section 2, paragraph 4, it is said, when a bishop has been chosen and is to be ordained, - TFTC 19.3

“Let the people assemble, with the presbytery and bishops that are present, on the Lord’s day, and let them give their consent.” TFTC 19.4

On book viii., section 4, paragraph 33, occurs the final mention of these two days in the so-called Apostolical Constitutions:- TFTC 19.5

“Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath day and the Lord’s day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord’s day, of the resurrection.” TFTC 20.1

To this may be added the 64th Canon of the Apostles, which is appended to the “Constitutions“:- TFTC 20.2

“If any one of the clergy be found to fast on the Lord’s day, or on the Sabbath day, excepting one only, let him be deprived; but if he be one of the laity, let him be suspended.” TFTC 20.3

Every mention of the Sabbath and first-day in that ancient book called “Apostolical Constitutions” is now before the reader. This book comes down to us from the third century, and contains what was at that time very generally believed to be the doctrine of the apostles. It is therefore valuable to us, not as authority respecting the teaching of the apostles, but as giving us a knowledge of the views and practices which prevailed in the third century. At the time these “Constitutions” were put in writing the ten commandments were revered as the immutable rule of right, and the Sabbath of the Lord was by many observed as an act of obedience to the fourth commandment, and as the divine memorial of the creation. But the first-day festival had already attained such strength and influence as to clearly indicate that ere long it would claim the entire ground. But observe that the Sabbath and the so-called Lord’s day are treated as distinct institutions, and that no hint of the change of the Sabbath to the first day of the week is even once given. The Apostolical Constitutions are cited first, not because written by the apostles, but because of their title. For the same reason the so-called Epistle of Barnabas is quoted next, not because written by that apostle, for the proof is ample that it was not, but because it is often quoted by first-day writers as the words of the apostle Barnabas. It was in existence however as early as the middle of the second century, and, like the “Apostolical Constitutions,” is of value to us in that it gives some clue to the opinions which prevailed in the region where the writer lived, or at least which were held by his party. TFTC 20.4