Saturday, March 4, 2017

Principles of Conduct - Creation Ordinances - The Sabbath

Everyone loves a special day. Maybe your favorite special day is Christmas. Or maybe your birthday. Or maybe your anniversary. Or maybe ANY day off from work! So many of our culture's industries and businesses exist solely because of special days; feasts, gifts, cards and gatherings all seem to be typically rooted in the observance of special days. 

In his book on Christian ethics entitled Principles of Conduct, professor John Murray (1898-1975) starts with mankind in Eden, prior to any sin entering the world, and focuses on several "Creation Ordinances" which he explains were a part of God's plan for man from the start. In other words, behaving "ethically" demands that we at least consider what the original plan for man looked like.


And, according to Murray, this plan involved a "special" day every week. He builds his case for this from Genesis 2:2 and 2:3, and he explains that each verse has a slightly different perspective.

Genesis 2:2 "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done."

Genesis 2:3 "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."

Murray explains that Genesis 2:2 is NOT specifically about man's weekly cycle. Rather, he says this is about God ENDING His work of creation and ALL of which follows is His rest. In other words, God created for six days...then, and ever since then, has rested from that work. He's not "creating" today. That work was done. 

Genesis 2:3 however is relevant to man's weekly cycle. This is based, he teaches, on Exodus 20:11 in which the 4th commandment ("honor the Sabbath day") makes reference to this specific verse in Genesis.  Why should man have this 1 special day in 7? Exodus 20:11 answers: "For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."

In other words, God's creation-pattern was meant to be a type of pattern for man also. God's template for our weekly cycle included a special day, a different day, every week.


Murray then draws some important principles to consider from the fact that the Lord created man with a weekly rest-day in mind.

1. Mankind, even before we sinned and ruined everything, needed this cycle of 1 different day every week. In other words, the "Sabbath" wasn't added to help restrain sin or correct our defects. Adam, had he never sinned, would still have observed this weekly cycle and it would have, according to Murray, "continued to condition and regulate his life and activity (p. 32)." Murray further points to the fact that Genesis 1:14 refers to God's creation of light and darkness to regulate "seasons..and days and years." In other words, all of creation was made to provide cycles for man, which included this weekly cycle of a special day.

2. This "special" day, or day of rest, was not a "do nothing" day. It wasn't so for God. The word "rested" might imply, in our minds, "inactivity." But Murray shows the text of Scripture is more about a shift from one kind of activity to another. The Lord's "resting" was just a "rest" from "creation" but not a stopping of His activity altogether.  In like manner the weekly "rest" day for man has another type of activity in mind. Specifically, it would highlight the "God-centered character of the ethic which would have governed Adam's behavior" (p. 33)."

Really? How?  How does this weekly cycle of a special day of rest facilitate this "God-centered" life?

First, it would be a regular reminder to man that his days have a Divine pattern. God's creation pattern of 6 days followed by 1 day of rest would follow man through all his days.  Murray seems to be saying that even now, as we think about what day it is, we should reflect that our days are patterned on God's work of creation and rest. Every day it is like we are (and these are my words not his) putting on a garment which was woven for us when the universe was made.

Second, and more specifically, Murray shows that this "special" day of rest was intended to be a special day for worship. He makes a strong statement worth pondering:  "Even in innocence [i.e. before sin] man would have required time for specific worship. We are too ready to entertain the notion that religion in a state of sinless or confirmed integrity would have required no institutions as the medium of expression.  Our conception of the piety of paradise becomes one of abstract, etherealized mysticism. This conception is not the conception which the data will bear out (p. 34)."

I love that phrase "the piety of paradise." Murray is of course referring to man's behavior in Eden, prior to the Fall. And while we cannot "live in the past" there is something to be said for striving to live according to the model originally set for us at the start. 


Murray winds up this section by pointing out a common mistake about the observance of a "Sabbath" day, or day of rest. Many assume it had its beginning with Moses as it is referred to in the 4th commandment (Exodus 20). As such, it is often dismissed as irrelevant to modern man, a part of the "ceremonial" character of the Israelite nation which has now been done away in Christ.

But linking this institution to Creation and it's institution in Eden throws the whole idea in a new light. Though it might have been quickly forgotten, as was God's pattern for marriage [see previous post], it nevertheless was always intended as a "binding obligation (p. 35)."


Several years ago an emergency room physician wrote a book entitled "24/6" in which he argued that we would be healthier, both physically and mentally, if we took a 6-day approach to work, committing to intentionally rest for a full day every week. 

In an interview with CNN Dr. Sleeth elaborated:

"For almost 2,000 years, Western culture stopped -- primarily on Sunday -- for about 24 hours. Even when I was a child, you couldn't buy gasoline, you couldn't buy milk. The drugstores weren't open. The only thing that was open was a hospital. Even in dairy farming country, we would milk cows, but we wouldn't bring in hay.  And so society just had a day where they put it in park. (That) was Sunday... until the last 30 years or so.  We go 24/7 now, and I think it's having health consequences. I think more and more, there's a consensus that it leads to depression and anxiety."

It is interesting to hear a physician say this. I have often thought this was the case as well. I'm guessing the Lord knew what He was up to when He designed this pattern for man.  Maybe we should listen?

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