Friday, April 24, 2009

Sabbath and the Puritans

Dr. Kenneth E. Smith, in 1959, recounted a curious episode in the development of Puritan Sabbatarianism involving Nicholas Bownde:
Dr. Kenneth E. Smith
...[N]ot until 1606 and the publication of a book by Nicholas Bownde (also Bound), D.D., a clergyman at Norton, in Suffolk [England], was the opinion ever widely held that the sanctity and authority of the seventh-day Sabbath were transferred to the first day of the week. The importance of Bownde’s work in understanding contemporary popular opinions regarding the observance of Sunday cannot be overlooked.

The book [entitled Sabbathum Veteris et Novi Testamenti: or, The True Doctrine of the Sabbath] could not have been published at a better time for a favorable reaction from the English public. ....

We are told that within a few years of the publication date, the English observance of Sunday underwent considerable change. Those who opposed Bownde’s views were hesitant to take up the pen. But finally the continental views were reaffirmed by the official church, and the issue was very much a live one.

From 1600 to 1675, we have a Sabbath controversy which for heat and intensity is unique. It was during this period that Traske (1620) and Brabourne (1628) entered the fray on the side of the continuing sanctity of the seventh-day Sabbath.

What did Bownde say to create such an upheaval and change the observance of English Protestantism? I will attempt a brief outline.
  1. The seventh-day Sabbath was given at creation before it was given on Sinai.
  2. The Gospel has not abolished the observance of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not Jewish either in origin or intent.
  3. The Sabbath is upon the seventh day, and no other. The Lord has given no authority to the church to change the day from the seventh to any other. God hath set down this "very Seventh Day."
  4. Only God has the authority to sanctify.
Now how does Bownde escape the inevitable logic of these assertions? Watch him closely, for a shadow forms over his previous clarity:
"The Sabbath day must needs be upon the seventh day as it always hath been, and upon this seventh day that we now keep. But concerning this very special seventh day, that now we keep in the time of the gospel, that is well known that it is not the same it was from the beginning which God himself did sanctify, and whereof he speaketh in this commandment, for it was the day going before ours, which in Latin retaineth his ancient name, and is called the Sabbath, which we also grant, but so that we confess, it must always remain, never to be changed anymore, and that all men must keep holy this seventh day and none other, which was unto them not the seventh, but the first day of the week, as it is so called many times in the New Testament, and so it still standeth in force that we are bound unto the seventh day, though, not unto the very seventh. Concerning the time and persons by whom and when the day was changed, it appeareth in the New Testament that it was done in the time of the Apostles, and by the Apostles themselves, and that together with the day, the name was changed, and was in the beginning called the first day of the week, afterwards the Lord’s Day."
Surely by all laws of logic it is simply impossible to understand that crucial paragraph. It is what A.H. Lewis called a "boomerang of retroactive logic."

Just to be sure that we did not misunderstand Dr. Bownde, let us quote from an earlier section: "I do not see… where the Lord hath given any authority to his Church ordinarily and perpetually to sanctify any day, except that which he hath sanctified himself… and so we see that the Sabbath must needs be still upon the seventh day as it has always been."

It is simply impossible to reconcile these statements, which are repeated frequently, with the first paragraph quoted. The church has not been given authority to change the day, he asserts, but the apostles did change the day, and apparently with Dr. Bownde’s blessing.

Here, then, is a lengthy work (479 pages) which holds that the Sabbath must never be changed or abrogated, but buries in a mysterious paragraph, the admission that it has been changed from the very seventh day to this very seventh day. In every other respect the author shows himself to be a learned scholar and a lucid writer, hence one can only conclude that he got into difficulty by his consistency with the facts, and got out of difficulty by a momentary lapse into obscurantism.

All of this might be amusing but for the fact that Bownde set the pattern for a nation and a culture in regard to a day of rest. Unlike the reformers of Germany, Switzerland, and France, he insisted upon Sabbath observance for Sunday. The use of the term Sabbath for Sunday is our heritage from Nicholas Bownde and the Puritan movement.

Perhaps these voices from the past help to explain the variety of opinion regarding the Sabbath that is evident in the United States. As a melting pot of nations we are aware of three major opinions on this issue:
  1. The English influence, particularly the free-church, coming by way of Colonial New England has been a transference of sanctity and authority from Sabbath to Sunday. This group is most likely to call Sunday the Sabbath and is most particular about its observance.
  2. The European Protestants claim that all days are sacred and are quite indifferent about the observance of Sunday.
  3. The Roman Catholic Church element has found authority for Sunday observance in their doctrine of the Church.
Thus the Catholic agrees with the Puritan that the Sabbath is transferred, but the Catholic has the easier position to maintain since he can demonstrate that the Church made the transferal.

The Puritan, claiming Biblical authority, has nothing more substantial than Dr. Bownde’s mysterious paragraph.
The full article is reprinted in the May, 2009, Sabbath Recorder.

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