Book Review: The Christian Sabbath Examined, Defended, and Applied By Brian M.Schwertley.
Reviewed by Richard Bacon
Copyright 1997 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

Brian M. Schwertley's recent book, The Christian Sabbath Examined, Defended and Applied, is a welcome addition to modern Lord's Day literature. Schwertley begins his study lamenting the fact that the Sabbath is little respected or even understood in this day. This is a complaint that this reviewer shares with Mr. Schwertley, who is pastor of the RPCNA mission in Lansing, MI.

Because of this basic modern misunderstanding of the ordinance, Schwertley establishes early that the Sabbath is both a creation ordinance and a vital part of the moral law. Many today who oppose Sabbath observance do so in the mistaken idea that the weekly rest was somehow peculiar to Israel in the Old Testament. Some may think that the Sabbath was peculiar to Israel as a church under age (thus making the Sabbath part of the ceremonial laws). Others assume that the Sabbath may have been given to Israel as a nation peculiar in redemptive history (thus making the Sabbath part of the judicial law for OT Israel). But if the Sabbath is part of God's moral law, then it is no less binding today than is the prohibition against idolatry or blasphemy or murder.

The author interacts well with the view of "theonomic anti-Sabbatarians" such as Gary North that biblical Sabbath-keeping would mean the end of western civilization as we know it. Schwertley points out that North's objections to Sabbath keeping really amount to nothing but the time-honored tactic of erecting a straw man for the express purpose of demolishing it. North claims that certain professions key to an industrial economy preclude biblical Sabbath keeping. Of course the fact that a minimal amount of labor is necessary to keep a blast furnace running does not militate against Sabbath keeping. The fact that a farmer fed his livestock even prior to the industrial revolution did not mean that the Sabbath could not be kept in an agrarian economy. Thus it does not follow that certain works of necessity which are at the very fringes of consideration should be made the rule for that which is at the center of consideration.

There are two possible explanations for why people add to God's word. One is to make themselves feel good because they have developed a list they can keep. That was the heart and soul of Pharisaism. The other explanation is that some use the additions to God's Word in order to ridicule God's righteous commandments. Thus the Puritans, for example, are not remembered today for who and what they were in reality, but for the Victorian caricature of them. Schwertley effectively exposes the theonomic opposition to Sabbath keeping for the caricature that it is.

Schwertley explains that the Sabbath is a moral law, a positive law, and is a creation ordinance. Because the Sabbath has both a moral and creation aspect it must be for all men and not merely for Israel under the OT economy. As Schwertley says, "The institution of the Sabbath has its ground in the very fabric of creation, including man's nature." However, the Sabbath also has a positive element grounded on nothing other than God's revealed will.

God chose the last day of the week to be the Sabbath from creation to the resurrection of Christ. Since Christ's resurrection, the Sabbath has been on the first day of the week (the Christian Sabbath). According to Schwertley, when we understand the positive aspect of the Sabbath legislation it helps us to understand and explain to judaizing groups such as Seventh-day Adventists that God can change the day upon which the Sabbath is kept without breaking the Sabbath. The positive aspect of the Sabbath also helps us to understand how acts of necessity and mercy can be permitted on the Sabbath.

This reviewer does not agree altogether with Schwertley's conclusion that it follows from this positive aspect that man has the prerogative to postpone the Sabbath to another day of the week in the event of a natural catastrophe or other emergency. That idea rather ignores the import of Christ's resurrection and also places in the hands of men that which clearly is only in the hands of the Lord of the Sabbath, Christ himself.

This small booklet is well worth the reading and the price. It is also "posted" on the Internet at, [updated May 22, 2001, and it can be downloaded from that site.

The subject that would have been good to see in this booklet, but which is sadly lacking, is a discussion of the magistrate's role and responsibility toward the Sabbath.