The first commandment hath a respect unto the object of worship; the second commandment hath a respect unto the means of worship; the third commandment hath a respect unto the manner of worship; but this fourth commandment hath a respect unto the time of worship.
God alone regulates whom, how and by what means, and when we are are to worship him. With respect to time, although we are the recipient of daily mercies and he is to be worshiped privately and in families daily, he particularly in the fourth commandment appointed one day in seven, the Christian Sabbath or the Lord's Day, to be devoted to his worship in a special way. Christians acknowledge that Christ changed the Sabbath day from the last day of the week to the first, by example, if not explicit precept in the Word. Most Christians also believe that the reckoning of the Sabbath day was also changed from the Jewish manner (sundown to sundown) to the Roman (Gentile) manner (midnight to midnight), and on the same basis as the change of day itself, that is, by the example of when Christ arose from the dead, although practically speaking, in the modern church, Sabbath observance is largely assumed to be a matter of personal preference, rather than an objectively-measured standard. It is this question which I aim to explore in this post.
God has commanded that the whole Sabbath day is to be consecrated to him, not just a portion, although in his mercy he allows us time for food, sleep and other necessities. But since the whole day belongs to him, it behooves us to consider whether we are recognizing his authority over the whole day of his appointment. Far from being legalistic or an instance of vain sophistry, the question of when the Lord's Day begins and ends is, or ought to be, an example of commendable scrupulousness, when it aims to honor the Lord during the time of his appointment. For example, when the Sabbath is reckoned has a bearing on what activities may be lawful on a Saturday evening or the Lord's Day evening. Things that are lawful during the week may not be lawful on the Sabbath. How the Sabbath is to be reckoned is a question that many divines have addressed and I have here compiled some of their wisdom (in the Puritan era, Robert Cleaver, wrote a whole treatise defending midnight-to-midnight Sabbath observance, and in modern times, Greg Price has also done so here, but my extracts, though they make for a long double blog post, are much shorter). Some, such as the New England Puritans, have observed a Sabbath that runs from sundown on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) to sundown on the first day of the week (the Lord's Day). Thomas Shepard and John Cotton, for instance, have written able -- though I believe, erroneous -- treatises defending this view. Below are some Puritans and others who take the majority Christian position that the Christian Sabbath ought to be reckoned as we reckon other days, that is, from midnight to midnight, for midnight is when the morning begins.
Thomas Vincent, The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture, pp. 139-141:
Q. 6. When doth this holy day or Sabbath begin, in the evening before, or that morning from midnight?
A. In the evening before, by virtue of that word, "Remember to keep holy the seventh day," we ought to begin to prepare for the Sabbath; but the Sabbath itself doth not begin until the evening is spent, and midnight thereof over, and the morning after twelve of the clock beginneth.
Q. 7. Doth not the Scriptures require us to begin the Sabbath in the evening, when it is said, "The evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen. 1:5); and, "From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbath?"— Lev. 33:32.
A. 1. It doth not follow that the evening of the first day was before the morning, though it be first spoken of; no more than that Shem and Ham were elder than Japheth, because they are reckoned up in order before him. "The sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 10:1); and yet Japheth is called the elder brother. — Verse 21. But Moses, reckoning up the works of God on the first day, retires back from the evening to the morning, and saith, they both make up the first day. Surely in the account of all nations, and in Scripture account too, the morning is before the evening. "The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, came Jesus," &c. (John 20:10), where the evening following this day, and on the evening before the day, is called the evening of the same day. 2. That place in Leviticus, concerning the celebration of the Sabbath from evening to evening, hath a reference only unto a ceremonial Sabbath, or day of atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh month, wherein the Israelites were to afflict their souls; but it hath not a reference unto the weekly Sabbath.
Q. 8. How do you prove by the Scripture that the weekly Sabbath doth begin in the morning?
A. That the weekly Sabbath is to begin in the morning, is evident— 1. by Exod. 16:23: "This is that which the Lord hath said, to-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord." If the Sabbath had begun in the evening, Moses would have said, This evening doth begin the rest of the Sabbath; but he saith, To-morrow is the rest of the Sabbath. 2. Most evidently it doth appear that the Sabbath doth begin in the morning, and not in the evening, by Matt. 28:1: "In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre." If the end of the Jewish Sabbath were not in the evening, when it began to grow dark towards the night, but when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, which must needs be towards the morning, and in no rational sense can be interpreted of the evening, then the Sabbath did also begin in the morning, and not in the evening, for the beginning and ending must needs be about the same time. But the former is evident from this place, concerning the Jewish Sabbath's ending; and therefore, consequently concerning its beginning. 3. Further, it is also said in this place, that the first day, which is the Christian Sabbath, did begin towards the dawning, as it grew on towards light, and not as it grew on towards darkness; therefore the Christian Sabbath doth begin in the morning. 4. Moreover, the resurrection of Christ, in commemoration of which the Christian Sabbath is observed, was not in the evening, but early in the morning ("Now when Jesus was risen early, the first day of the week "— Mark 16:9); therefore the Sabbath is to begin in the morning. 5. If the Sabbath did begin in the evening before, it would end in the evening after; and it would be lawful for men to work in their callings, or to go to their recreations, on the evening of the Sabbath, which surely would be very unsuitable after the holy employments of that day.
William Gouge, The Sabbath's Sanctification:
Question 48. When begins the Lord's Day?
Ans. In the morning, Acts 20:7.
When Paul came to the Church at Troas, he had a mind to spend a Lord's day with them, though he was in great haste to depart so soon as he could. He came, therefore, to their assembly at the time that they came together according to their custom; but he kept them till the end of the day (for he would not travel on the Lord's day); and having dismissed the assembly, he departed. Now it said that he continued his speech "till midnight" (Acts 20:7), even "till break of day" (verse 11), and then departed; which departure of his is said to be "on the morrow." By this punctual expression of the time, it appears that the first day of the week, the Lord's day, ended at midnight, and that then the morrow began. Now to make a natural day, which consisteth of twenty four hours, it must begin and end at the same time; for the end of one day is the beginning of another. There is not a minute betwixt them. As, therefore, the Lord's day ended at midnight, so it must begin at midnight, when we count the morning to begin. Which is yet more evident by this phrase, Matt. 28:1, "In the end of the Sabbath" (namely, of the week before which was the former Sabbath) "as it began to dawn" (namely, on the next day, which was the Lord's day). Or, as John 20:1, "when it was yet dark" there came divers to anoint the body of Jesus, but they found him not in the grave. He was risen before; so as Christ rose before the sun.
Question 49. What reasons may be given of the Lord's day beginning in the morning?
Ans. Other days then begin.
That they do so with us is evident by the account of our hours. For midnight ended, we begin with one o'clock; then the first hour of the day beginneth. And it appears to be so among the Jews; for when Aaron proclaimed, Exod. 32:5, 6, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord," "they rose up early on the morrow." I deny not but that sundry of the Jewish feasts began in the evening, as the Passover (Exod. 12:6). But it cannot be proved that their weekly Sabbath so began. There were special reasons for the beginning of those feasts in the evening, which did then begin. As for the supposed beginnings of the first days gathered out of this phrase: "the evening and the morning were the first day;" they cannot be necessarily concluded to be at the evening. For the evening and the morning there importeth the moment of the evening and morning parting from one another, and the return to the same period; which moment is rather at the beginning of the morning than of the evening. The evening useth to be referred to the end of the day and the morning to the beginning, as Exod. 29:38, 29; 1 Sam. 17:16; John 20:19.
Question 50. What other reason is there of the Lord's day beginning in the morning.
Ans. Christ then rose, Mark 16:2, 9.
Of Christ's rising in the morning, no question can be made; all the evangelists agree in the narration thereof. Now the Lord's day being a memorial of Christ's resurrection, if it should begin in the evening, the memorial would be before the thing itself, wihch is absurd to imagine. As all God's works were finished before the first Sabbath, so all Christ's sufferings before the Lord's day. His lying dead in the grave was a part of his suffering. Therefore, by his resurrection was all ended. With his resurrection, therefore, must the Lord's day begin.
To make the evening before the Lord's day a time of preparation thereunto is a point of piety and prudence; but to make it a part of the Lord's day is erroneous, and in many respects very inconvenient.
William Perkins, Cases of Conscience, in Works, Vol. 2, p. 111-112:
When doth the Sabbath begin?
To this some doe answer, in the evening, and some in the morning. My answer is this, that the Sabbath of the new Testament amongst us is to begin in the morning, and so to continue till the next morrow, and not in the evening till the evening.
The reasons be these. 1. The Sabbath is to begin when other ordinarie dayes begin, according to the order and account of the Church wherein we live. 2. It was the practice of Christ and the Apostles. For Christ (as it hath beene thought of ancient times) consecrated the Sabbath, in that hee rose from the dead early in the morning, when the first day of the weeke began to dawne, Matth. 28.1. and therefore it is fit that the Sabbath day should then begin when he rose, for as much as it is kept in remembrance of his resurrection. The same was the practice of the Apostles. For Acts 20.7. the first day of the weeke the Jewes came together at Troas in the morning, and there Paul preached from that time till midnight; being the next morning to depart, having stayed there, as is plaine out of the sixth verse, seven daies. In that text I note two things. First, that the night there mentioned was a part of the seventh day of Pauls abode at Troas. For if it were not so, then he had stayed at least a night longer, and so more than seven days, because he should have stayed part of another day. Secondly, that this night was a part of the Sabbath which they then kept. For the apostle keeps it in manner of a Sabbath, in the exercises of piety and divine worship, and namely in preaching. Yea further, he continues there till the rest was fully ended: he communed with them till the dawning of the day, and so departed, verse 11. Besides this text, David saith in his Psalm of the Sabbath, that he will declare God’s loving kindness in the morning, and his truth in the night, Ps. 92:2, making the night following a part of the Sabbath.
Against this doctrine it is alleaged, first, that the Sabbath is to begin in the evening, because in the first of Genesis, it is said, six severall times, the evening and the morning made the first day, and so the second, and third, &c.
Answ. First, in that text when it is said, the evening and the morning made such and such daye, by the evening is understood the night, and by the morning the day, and the evening was the end of the day, and the morning the end of the night. This exposition is ancient, and yet in Scripture wee finde not one place where the evening is put for the night. Secondly, I answer, that the collection from that place is of no force: for thus the reason must needs be framed. That which God did in appointing of daies, the same must we doe in using of them: But in appointing of dayes, began the day at evening, Erg. &c. The consequent is false. For the case is otherwise in the constitution of time, than it is in the use of time constituted: and there is not the same reason of things in doing, as there is of the same things in being and use. Thirdly, this did not bind the Jewes. For they in all likelihood began their Sabbaths in the morning. Indeed their solemne feasts, as the Passover and such like, began and were kept from evening to morning, as wee may read, Levit. 23.5. But their ordinarie Sabbath was kept from morning to morning. Whence it is, that S. Matthew cals the dawning of the first day of the weeke, the end of the Sabbath of the Jewes, Mat. 28.1. and there is nothing (I take it) that can be brought to the contrarie.
It is objected that Moses saith, Lev. 23.32. From even to even shall ye celebrate your Sabbath. Answ. The words must be understood of the feast of reconciliation, being the tenth day of the seventh moneth, which was solemnized and kept from even to even. And it is called a Sabbath, because it was by special commandement appointed to bee kept as the Sabbath day, and that in two respects. First, because it was to be kept holy by the Jewes, in humbling themselves and offering sacrifices, vers. 37. Secondly, because upon that day it was not lawfull to doe any servile worke upon paine of death, vers. 25. 30.
Againe, it is alleaged that Ioseph of Arimathea could not embalme Christ, by reason that the Sabbath was at hand, and this was the evening. I answer, that the Jewes Sabbath there meant concurred with the day of their Passover, and hence it was that their Sabbath began in the evening.
By this that hath beene said, the answer to the third Question is plaine, to wit, that in the new Testament the Sabbath is to begin at the morning, and so to continue to the next morning, and not as some suppose, to begin at the even and continue till the next even.
William Fenner, Treatise of the Sabbath:
James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie, p. 244-245:
William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, pp. 297-298:
James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie, p. 244-245:
Why doth our Sabbath begin at the dawning of the day?
Because Christ rose in the dawning; and to put a difference between the Jewish, and the true Christian Sabbath. For as the Jewes begun their Sabbath in that part of the day, in which the Creation of the world was ended, and consequently in the Evening: so the celebration of the memory of Christs Resurrection, and therein of his rest from his special labours and the renewing of the world, being the ground of the change of that day into this; it is also, by the same proportion of reason, to begin when the Resurrection began, which was in the morning.
Can you see this by example?
Yea. Paul being at Troas, after he had preached a whole day, until midnight, celebrated the supper of the Lord the same night, which was a Sabbath dayes exercise: and therefore that night following the day was apart of the Sabbath. For in the morning he departed, having staid there seven dayes: by which it is evident, that that which was done, was done upon the Lords day. Acts 20.7.--10.
William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, pp. 297-298:
35. Just as the beginning of the old sabbath occurred in the evening because the creation also began in the evening (the formless earth being created before the light) and the cessation of the work of creation also began at evening, so also the beginning of the Lord's Day appears to begin in the morning because the resurrection of Christ was in the early morning, Mark 16:2; John 20:1.
Another reason is this: God rested the seventh day: now looke what time God rested, that time we must sanctifie: now God rested the seventh day, all of it, he left none of the creation to do upon the seventh day; he had finished the creation in six days, and rested all the seventh day, therefore we must keep the whole day. Thirdly, because this is the nature of a Sabbath to bee 24 houres, not to be an artificiall day, but to be a naturall day, 24 houres together, as you may see Lev. 23.32 you shall keep the Sabbath from evening to evening; then the days were reckoned from evening to evening from the creation; though now under the gospel, because Christ arose in the morning, they are reckoned from morning to morning.
John Flavel, An Exposition of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism, re: Q. 57-59:
Q. 6. When doth the Christian Sabbath begin?
A. It appears that this day is not to be reckoned from evening to evening, but from morning to morning; because the Christian Sabbath must begin when the Jewish Sabbath ended, but that ended towards the morning, Matthew 28:1. In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen, and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.
Q. 1. To what about the Worship of God has this command a reference?
A. It refers to the special TIME of God's worship.
Q. 2. Is the TIME of God's worship left arbitrary to the will of man?
A. No; we are to keep holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word.
Q. 7. What is the special and stated time, which God has expressly, appointed in his word, to be kept holy?
A. One whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to himself.
Q. 8. What is meant by a whole day?
A. A whole natural day, consisting of twenty-four hours.
Q. 9 What do you understand by one whole day in seven?
A. A seventh part of our weekly time; or one complete day, either, after or before six days' labour.
Q. 10. When should we begin and end this day?
A. We should measure it just as we do other days, from midnight to midnight, without alienating any part of it to our own works.
George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, Vol. 1, pp. 245-246:
Observe how exact God is in expressing a whole natural day: "From evening to evening you shall keep the Sabbath," Lev 23:32. Their days were reckoned from evening to evening, from the creation; but ours, because Christ rose in the morning, from morning to morning.
Matthew Poole, Annotations Upon the Holy Bible, Vol. I, p. 249, re Lev. 23.32:
The Jews are supposed to begin every day, and consequently their sabbaths, at the evening, in remembrance of the creation, Gen. i. 5, as Christians generally begin their days and sabbaths with the morning, in memory of Christ’s resurrection.
Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Vol. 3, pp. 495-497:
IV. The proportion of time that is to be observed as a weekly Sabbath. Thus it is said in this answer, we are to keep holy to God, one whole day in seven. A day is either artificial or natural. The former is the space of time from the sun's rising, to it's setting; the latter contains in it the space of twenty four hours. Now the Lord's day must be supposed to continue longer than the measure of an artificial day; otherwise it would fall short of a seventh part of time. But this has not so many difficulties attending it, as that has which relates to the time of the day when it begins. Nevertheless, we have some direction, as to this matter, from the intimation given us, that Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, while it was yet dark, John xx.1. Luke xxiv.1. Therefore the Lord's day begins in the morning, before sun rising; or, according to our usual way of reckoning, we may conclude, that it begins immediately after midnight, and continues till mid-night following; which is our common method of computing time, beginning the day with the morning, and ending it with the evening; and it is agreeable to the Psalmist's observation; Man goeth forth to his work, and to his labour in the morning, until the evening, Psal. civ.23. Rest, in the order of nature, follows after labour; therefore the night follows the day; and consequently the Lord's day evening follows the day, on which account it must be supposed to begin in the morning.
Again, if the Sabbath begins in the evening, religious worship ought to be performed sometime, at least, in the evening; and then, soon after it is begun, it will be interrupted by the succeeding night, and then it must be revived again in the following day. And, as to the end of the Sabbath, it seems not so agreeable, that, when we have been engaged in the worship of God in the day, we should spend the evening in secular employments; which cannot be judged unlawful, if the Sabbath be then at an end. Therefore, it is much more expedient, that the whole work of the day should be continued as along our worldly employments are on other days; and our beginning and ending the performance of religious duties, should in some measure, be agreeable thereunto. Again, this may be proved from what is said in Exod. xvi.23. To-morrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord. Whereas, if the Sabbath had begun in the evening, it would rather have been said, this evening begins the rest of the holy Sabbath.
Another scripture generally thought to prove this argument, is in John xx.19. The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and said unto them, Peace be unto you; it is called the evening of the same day; so that the worship which was performed that day, was continued in the evening thereof. This is not called the evening of the next day, but of the same day in which Christ rose from the dead; which was the first Christian Sabbath.
Object. To this it is objected, that the ceremonial Sabbaths under the law, began at evening. Thus it is said, in Lev. xxiii.5. In the fourteenth day of the first month, at even, is the Lord's passover; and ver. 32. speaking concerning the feast of expiation, which was on the tenth day of seventh month, it is said, It shall be unto a Sabbath of rest; and ye shall afflict your souls in the ninth day of the month, at even; From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbath.
Answ. To this it may be answered; that the beginning of sacred days is to be at the same time with that of civil; and this was governed by the custom of nations. The Jews' civil day began at evening; and therefore it was ordained that from evening to evening, should be the measure of their sacred days. Our days have another beginning and ending, which difference is only circumstantial. Whereas, the principal thing enjoined, is, that one whole day in seven, be observed as a Sabbath to the Lord.