By David Dickson
Truth’s Victory Over Error, from which the following excerpts were taken, was the first published commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was written by David Dickson (1589‑1662), a contemporary of the Westminster Assembly, and a close ministerial associate of the Scottish commissioners to the Assembly. In 1640 Dickson was appointed Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University. In 1650 he was transferred to the corresponding chair of theology at Edinburgh University, which he held until his death in 1662. It was in the first two years at Edinburgh, 1650‑1652, that Dickson delivered his lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith. These were apparently the basis for his printed commentary on the Confession, which was published posthumously in 1684. The book has not been reprinted since 1726. What follows are Dickson’s comments respecting the Sabbath day.
Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day
Hath God in his Word, by a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto himself? Yes,Exodus 20:8 , 10 and 11, Isaiah 56:2 , 4 and 6‑7. Well then, do not some men err, who maintain that God hath not under the gospel determined any certain day for his own worship, but only hath commanded that some indefinite time be destined for public worship, which time (say they) is left to be determined by the church? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because the determining of an ordinary and sufficient time for divine worship, as a Sabbath, belongs to God only, and not to man. For we do not read that any such power or authority is granted to man, either by the law of nature, or Scripture. Is it not a thing of very great moment? Is it likely that the wisdom of God would leave it uncertain? This might accuse the Scripture of imperfection. It is not suitable to the love of God and his care towards his church. Therefore, it behoveth that there be one day of seven by virtue of the fourth command, seeing no where else another necessary day is appointed or prescribed in the Word.
(2) Because it is just and equitable (as the adversaries grant) that one day should be set apart for God, who hath freely given us six. (3) Because in six days God made the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh: not out of necessity, but to give us an example to do the like. (4) Because one day of ten, twenty or thirty cannot be thought convenient. Neither is such a thing commanded in any place of Scripture. And would it not argue a neglect of divine worship, and the care of souls, if one day of twenty, thirty or forty were appointed? Neither can the fifth, fourth or sixth day be appointed, seeing God hath commanded us to work six days. This would make our yoke more heavy than the Jewish yoke, which the adversaries will not grant. (5) Because it is the principal and chief scope of the fourth command that one day of seven, in respect of us, be set apart and consecrated to divine worship. Not truly that some indefinite time, to set apart. If this were true the fourth command should differ substantially from the other precepts of the decalogue, and so there behoved to be an useless precept, or at least a tautology ought to be committed.
Do not likewise the Anabaptists, Socinians, and Libertines err, with whom we may take in the Quakers (and other Antisabbatarians, that disown the Sabbath as being carnal and a command of the letter), who teach that whatever is contained in the fourth command is ceremonial, and so properly, as to the matter and substance which it holds out, abrogated wholly? And therefore (say they) by virtue of this fourth command there is no day to be set apart for public divine worship? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because the fourth command, which appoints one day of seven to be set apart for God, is a positive and moral command, as to substance, seeing it was given to Adam in his integrity, before ever there was need of any types, and ceremonies shadowing forth Christ, Genesis 2:2 ‑3. (2) Because it was repeated before the promulgation of the ceremonial law, Exodus 16:23 . (3) Because it was written with God’s own hand and inserted into the midst of the rest of the moral precepts, and was put into the ark of the testimony with the other nine, which honor was never conferred upon any precept merely ceremonial. (4) Because all the reasons of this command are entirely moral. He rested after six days and allowed us six days to work, therefore in all equity we ought to rest after so many days’ work, and give God a seventh.
(5) Because Christ confirms this command in saying, “Pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day,” where the Lord insinuateth that as traveling is troublesome to the body in winter, so would it be to the minds of the godly to travel on that day specially and solemnly set apart for God’s worship. Now, if there were no Sabbath to continue after Christ’s ascension, or if it were not to be sanctified, there would be no occasion of this grief and trouble, that they behoved to travel on the Sabbath and durst not tarry till that day were by‑past, and so no cause to put up this prayer which yet by our Lord’s exhortation seemeth to infer that the Sabbath was to be as certain in its time as the winter. And doubtless this cannot be meant of the Jewish Sabbath, for that was to be abolished shortly. Next, traveling on the Jewish Sabbath was to be no cause of grief unto them, if indeed all days were alike, neither would it be scrupled in such a case by the apostles to whom he is now speaking.
Was this one day in seven, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, the last day of the week? Yes. And was it, from the resurrection of Christ, changed into the first day of the week? Yes. And is it to be continued, to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath? Yes,Genesis 2:2 ‑3, I Corinthians 16:1‑2, Acts 20:7 , Revelation 1:10, Matthew 5:17 ‑ 18. Well then, do not the Sabbatarians err, who maintain that the Jewish Sabbath, or the seventh day from the creation, is to be observed? Yes. Do not others likewise err who maintain that the observation of the Lord’s Day is only of ecclesiastic and apostolic institution? Yes. These authors (you see) do confound and make two things really distinct to be but one, namely ecclesiastic and apostolic authority.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because the fourth command standing, wherein one day of seven is appointed, the numbering [of which day is to be observed] is left free to God himself, that the right and power may be reserved to Christ the Law‑giver, and to his Spirit, for the change of the day, and continuing the worship prescribed in the fourth command. (2) From the name itself, for our Sabbath is called the Lord’s Day, Revelation 1:10 . “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” or, on that Lord’s Day, or, day which is the Lord’s, pointing out a day singularly, and a day which in a particular and special manner is called His day, even as the Lord’s prayer and the Lord’s Supper are so called, because appointed by Christ the Lord. (3) Because God only can abrogate the Lord’s Day (the adversaries granting so much), therefore he that hath power to rescind hath power likewise to establish.
(4) Because there is an implicit command concerning the observation of the Lord’s Day, I Corinthians 16:2. “As I have,” saith Paul, “given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him.” From which place we reason thus, that not the seventh, but the first day, is the chief solemn day for worship after Christ’s resurrection, because the apostles did pitch particularly and eminently upon that day, and that in diverse churches, as the fittest time for expressing their charity. He doth not think it indifferent what day it be done on, nor that all days are alike, but pitcheth on the first day, not in one church only but in many. Next, this command supposeth them to be already acquainted with some special privileges of the first day beyond others, and that there must be some peculiar thing in this day making it fit, yea more fit for such a purpose, rather than any other day. (5) Because as the seventh day was instituted in remembrance of the works of creation, so the first day, after the work of redemption was finished, succeeded as most convenient for collating and comparing both mercies together.
(6) Because Christ on the first day of the week appeared most frequently to his disciples, and blessed it with his presence, Matthew 218:9 , Acts 1:3 , John 20:19 and 26. (7) Because on that day the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles. And on the same day Peter baptized three thousand, Acts 2:1 ‑4 and 41. (8) Because the church in the time of the apostles did observe the first day of the week as holy, Acts 20:7 . But the practice of the apostles, approven in Scripture, is equivalent to a divine institution. (9) Because Christ was seen of his apostles forty days after his resurrection, and spoke to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, during which time he hath taught them all things needful to be known, and among the rest (it is probable) the change of the Sabbath, and the institution of the first day of the week, and that immediately after his resurrection. He hath either immediately by himself instituted that day, or hath inspired his apostles to observe it, from that same very time. (10) Because the Lord hath remarkably owned this Christian Sabbath, in being remarkably avenged upon the breakers and profaners thereof, as it is clear from several histories.
Is this Sabbath then kept holy unto the Lord when men after a due preparation of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his own worship, except what is spent in the duties of necessity and mercy? Yes, Exodus 16:23, 25‑26, 29‑30, 31:15‑17,Isaiah 58:13 , Nehemiah 13:15 ‑16, 18‑19, and 21‑22. Well then, do not some err who think that after public worship is ended, the rest of the Lord’s Day may be spent in ordinary exercises, recreations, and such like sports as are not unlawful on other days, unless they be forbidden by the church or commonwealth wherein men live? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because the Lord says in the fourth commandment, “In it thou shalt not do any work.” But ordinary recreations, games and sports are our own works. (2) Because nature itself requires that we bestow as much of the Sabbath day on God, who is the Lord of time, and of all things which we have, as we can and are accustomed to bestow upon our own affairs on other days. (3) Because the Lord says, “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable, and shalt honor him, not doing thy own ways, nor finding thy own pleasure, nor speaking thy own words, then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord, and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” Isaiah 58:13 ‑14. See Jeremiah 17:22 , Deuteronomy 5:12‑13 and 15, Numbers 15:32 ‑33 and 36. And Nehemiah 13:15 ‑23, “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses, as also wine grapes and figs, and all manner of burdens which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.”