The Lord’s Day Controversy
Ellen White made a prediction—which has been widely criticized—that there will come a time when a great battle will ensue over the Lord’s day—the Sabbath. She has much to say regarding the Lord’s Day in many of her books. We share with you a few selections that reveal Ellen White’s position regarding the Lord’s Day—how to identify the true and the counterfeit “Lord’s day” and what significance the controversy has for Christians today.
Established at Creation
The Sabbath was hallowed at the creation. As ordained for man, it had its origin when “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. Peace brooded over the world; for earth was in harmony with heaven. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good;” and He rested in the joy of His completed work. Genesis 1:31.
Because He had rested upon the Sabbath, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it”—set it apart to a holy use. He gave it to Adam as a day of rest. It was a memorial of the work of creation, and thus a sign of God’s power and His love. The Scripture says, “He has made His wonderful works to be remembered.” “The things that are made,” declare “the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world,” “even His everlasting power and divinity.” Genesis 2:3; Psalm 111:4; Romans 1:20, R. V.
All things were created by the Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. . . . All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” John 1:1-3. And since the Sabbath is a memorial of the work of creation, it is a token of the love and power of Christ.
The Sabbath calls our thoughts to nature, and brings us into communion with the Creator. In the song of the bird, the sighing of the trees, and the music of the sea, we still may hear His voice who talked with Adam in Eden in the cool of the day. And as we behold His power in nature we find comfort, for the word that created all things is that which speaks life to the soul. He “who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6.
It was this thought that awoke the song,—
“For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work;
And the Holy Spirit through the prophet Isaiah declares: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? . . . Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. . . . To whom then will you liken Me, or to whom shall I be equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. . . . He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.” Isaiah 40:18-29. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10. “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:22. This is the message written in nature, which the Sabbath is appointed to keep in memory. When the Lord bade Israel hallow His Sabbaths, He said, “They shall be a sign between Me and you, that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God.” Ezekiel 20:20, R. V.
The Sabbath was embodied in the law given from Sinai; but it was not then first made known as a day of rest. The people of Israel had a knowledge of it before they came to Sinai. On the way thither the Sabbath was kept. When some profaned it, the Lord reproved them, saying, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws?” Exodus 16:28.
The Sabbath was not for Israel merely, but for the world. It had been made known to man in Eden, and, like the other precepts of the Decalogue, it is of imperishable obligation. Of that law of which the fourth commandment forms a part, Christ declares, “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law.” Matthew 5:18. So long as the heavens and the earth endure, the Sabbath will continue as a sign of the Creator’s power. And when Eden shall bloom on earth again, God’s holy rest day will be honored by all beneath the sun. “From one Sabbath to another” the inhabitants of the glorified new earth shall go up “to worship before Me, says the Lord.” Isaiah 66:23. . . .
Corrupted by Man
As the Jews departed from God, and failed to make the righteousness of Christ their own by faith, the Sabbath lost its significance to them. Satan was seeking to exalt himself and to draw men away from Christ, and he worked to pervert the Sabbath, because it is the sign of the power of Christ. The Jewish leaders accomplished the will of Satan by surrounding God’s rest day with burdensome requirements. In the days of Christ the Sabbath had become so perverted that its observance reflected the character of selfish and arbitrary men rather than the character of the loving heavenly Father. The rabbis virtually represented God as giving laws which it was impossible for men to obey. They led the people to look upon God as a tyrant, and to think that the observance of the Sabbath, as He required it, made men hard-hearted and cruel. It was the work of Christ to clear away these misconceptions. Although the rabbis followed Him with merciless hostility, He did not even appear to conform to their requirements, but went straight forward, keeping the Sabbath according to the law of God.
Upon one Sabbath day, as the Saviour and His disciples returned from the place of worship, they passed through a field of ripening grain. Jesus had continued His work to a late hour, and while passing through the fields, the disciples began to gather the heads of grain, and to eat the kernels after rubbing them in their hands. On any other day this act would have excited no comment, for one passing through a field of grain, an orchard, or a vineyard, was at liberty to gather what he desired to eat. See Deuteronomy 23:24, 25. But to do this on the Sabbath was held to be an act of desecration. Not only was the gathering of the grain a kind of reaping, but the rubbing of it in the hands was a kind of threshing. Thus, in the opinion of the rabbis, there was a double offense.
The spies at once complained to Jesus, saying, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” Matthew 12:2.
When accused of Sabbathbreaking at Bethesda, Jesus defended Himself by affirming His Sonship to God, and declaring that He worked in harmony with the Father. Now that the disciples are attacked, He cites His accusers to examples from the Old Testament, acts performed on the Sabbath by those who were in the service of God.
The Jewish teachers prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, and in the Saviour’s answer there was an implied rebuke for their ignorance of the Sacred Writings. “Have you not even read this,” He said, “what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, . . . which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” Luke 6:3-4. “And He said unto them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. “Have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.” Matthew 12:5-6. “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:28.
The Desire of Ages, pp. 281-285
Next part: The Sabbath in Jesus’ Day, Part 2: Sabbath Work That Is Approved by God
All Scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version, including those originally quoted by Ellen White from the King James Version.—Editors