Our One Distinctive View on the Law
There is really only one difference between us and Protestants in general regarding the law. We understand the fourth commandment differently. We believe that the phrase the seventh day means the seventh day of the weekly cycle. And so did everyone else, until the end of the sixteenth century, when Nicholas Bownde developed the idea that the phrase meant simply one day in seven, and thus provided Puritan reformers with an apparent Scriptural support for Sundaykeeping. If our critics wish to prefer charges against us for failure to adopt a relatively new interpretation of a Scriptural phrase, we are ready to answer the charge with this simple inquiry: Why should we be asked to accept a new interpretation when the holy prophets and the apostles all understood the words the seventh day to mean the seventh day of the week? The holy women who rested on the day between crucifixion Friday and resurrection Sunday "rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment." Luke 23:56.
But even though our critics have to agree that our interpretation is anchored to history and the prophets, they seem still to be sure there must be something spiritually off-color, legalistic, in our keeping of the seventh day of the week, and particularly in our calling upon others to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. We may make impassioned appeal to the licentious man to flee from the wrath to come upon the head of all who violate the seventh command. We may do the same in regard to the thief, the liar, the murderer, the covetous man, the parent-dishonoring child, the blasphemer, and the idolater. To each we may say that his life is a violation of the law of God, which is binding on all men in all ages. To each
we may appeal to implore God for forgiveness and for a new heart on which is written the law by the miraculous work of the Divine Spirit. Have not all great evangelists done this? Did not Dwight L. Moody preach a whole series of revival sermons on the Decalogue? (Later printed under the title Weighed and Wanting.)
Yes, we may do all this and be considered orthodox in the matter of grace and law. But let us include in our appeal to men the fourth commandment, and a storm breaks around our heads. Moody included the fourth commandment in his fervent series on the Decalogue. But no storm broke over him. No one accused him of legalism, of setting up another standard for salvation than Jesus Christ. But then Moody did not call on men to keep the "Sabbath day according to the commandment"; he called on them to keep holy the first day of the week!
A Strange Situation
Here is a strange situation indeed. It is even more strange when viewed in the setting of the fact that legalism is often directly involved in the urge that is put on people to keep Sunday. Have not our critics heard of Sunday laws that have been put on the statute books by ardent preachers, and vigorously invoked by them?
Just why we who invoke only the grace of God to enable man to obey the command to keep holy the seventh day, should be charged as legalists, while the hosts of Sundaykeeping ministers, who often invoke the strong arm of the law in order to compel men to rest on the first day of the week, should claim to be the exponents of grace, is surely a strange contradiction. Seventh-day Adventists have ever been vigorous opponents of the idea of approaching Sabbath rest from a legal standpoint, whereas Sundaykeeping preachers are the ones who have lobbied almost every legislative body in Christian lands into enacting strong laws to protect Sunday! We who are Seventh-day Adventists must suffer the constant strictures of a large majority of the Sundaykeeping ministry for our refusal to support their program of Sunday legislation. They declare that we are in league with the lawless
element who want an open Sunday. But whenever we urge the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath, and invoke the law of God, some of those same ministers cry out that we are legalists! Why the difference?
A Situation Still More Strange
To repeat the question asked earlier in this book, for it bears repeating: Just what is there about preaching first-day sacredness from the fourth commandment—as Protestant denominations in general have done through all the years—that transports such preachers to the balmy paradise of grace, whereas the preaching of seventh-day sacredness from the same fourth commandment consigns such preachers to the chill limbo of legalism? We who preach seventh-day sacredness certainly do not do so more sternly and rigorously than first-day preachers. Even a cursory acquaintance with Protestant history reveals that Sunday sacredness has quite frequently been proclaimed with a severity that frightened into conformity the majority and thrust into jail the remainder. If today there is a certain relaxation of this severity, it certainly does not reflect any fundamental difference of view toward the first day by religious leaders, for they bemoan the laxity that has crept in.
Perhaps some of our critics will say that they do not believe in this view of first-day sacredness. But that is surely not to the point. The charge of legalism is made by critics who represent a variety of Protestant bodies, which bodies have been parties to Sunday legislation. We therefore return to the question: Why is it a display of grace and faith to preach first day sacredness from the Decalogue, but a non-Christian display of legalism to preach seventh-day sacredness from the same law?
In substance, we are charged as being "heretical" because of our beliefs on the law in general and the fourth precept in particular. The question is: Wherein does the heresy lie? In our view of the law in general, that it is God's unchangeable code for all men in all ages? No, for we declare our complete harmony with
the classic confessions of faith on this point. Is it because of our view of the fourth precept in particular? And if so, why, in view of the facts presented in the proceeding paragraphs?
Some time ago I fell into conversation with a Baptist minister. He deplored the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy that was shattering his denomination. He said he judged that every denomination was thus troubled, however, I replied that ours was not. He marveled. No marvel. I said; the explanation is simple. Seventh-day Adventists could not possibly be evolutionists, for we keep the seventh day of the weekly cycle as a memorial of the completion of God's creative work in the first week of time. We keep this day holy because "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, ... and rested the seventh day." When we rest on the seventh day, we think of Him who rested on that day and blessed it. Ever remembering the Sabbath, we cannot forget creation. And ever believing in the Sabbath, we must ever believe in creation. We think rather of Eden than of Sinai when we keep the Sabbath.
The complete freedom from Modernism in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, even in its colleges, is an eloquent proof of the truth of what we here claim regarding the Sabbath. Yet, behold, this Sabbath doctrine, which is our strong bulwark against Modernism, proves to be part of the reason for a withering indictment of us by Fundamentalists, in whose ranks our critics are generally found. ...
Sabbath Kept Joyfully
What is more, our critics know that Adventists keep the fourth commandment—the Sabbath command—with a joyfulness and sincerity with which they (the critics) fain would have their communicants keep Sunday. They know that while they, or their fellow opponents of Adventism, seek laws to undergird Sunday, Adventists keep the Sabbath without the aid of any legal statutes by the state, and are indeed militantly opposed to any legal approach to the matter of Sabbathkeeping.
Yes, and our critics, who are generally of the Fundamentalist ranks, know that Adventists are untainted by skeptical, evolutionist doctrines, and that they are ever protected from such heresy by their weekly keeping of the Sabbath in memory of God's having created the heavens and the earth.
Warm and Spontaneous Liberality
Our critics also know that Seventh-day Adventists give gladly and with a liberality that far out distances the giving of virtually all other churches in Christendom, and they know that such warm liberality could not spring from cold legalism.
Besides all this, our critics know that Adventists conduct a mission program out of all proportions to their size, that they go into the heart of Africa, the recesses of Asia, and the jungles of the South Seas, and that as a result of their preaching raw savages turn from
devil worship, from filthy, enslaving habits, to live circumspect happy Christian lives. Our critics know that legalism is powerless to do this. Have they not, as good Fundamentalists, often declared that Modernists lack either the urge to go as missionaries or the power to transform lives if they went?
All this and more must trouble the thinking of our critics in their quiet moments. We think it should!
Source: Answers to Objections, by Francis D. Nichol, copyright 1932, 1947, 1952, by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, pages 533-536, 541-542