Seventh Day Baptist Address to Baptists in America, 1843

Who are the Seventh Day Baptists, and what do they believe? Why do they insist so strongly upon seventh day worship? One of the best sources for answering these questions, especially in the nineteenth century, is their address of 1843. Directed to the Baptists of America, this address spelled out in detail the sabbatarian convictions and conduct. One would be hard put to find a better defense of the sabbath; the address is calmly stated, biblical in emphasis, and fraternal in tone. The authors included an appeal for first day Baptists to adopt seventh day views and, failing that, to show more understanding for their sabbatarian brethren. Source: “An Address to the Baptist Denomination of the United States, on the Observance of the Sabbath.” From the Seventh-Day Baptist General Conference (New York: J. Winchester, New World Press, 1843), 5–24.
The General Conference of Seventh-Day Baptists was convened at Plainfield, New Jersey, on the 3rd day of September, 1843. The delegates were generally impressed that the time had come when the denomination should make increased and vigorous efforts to promote the doctrine of the Bible concerning the Sabbath. The following resolutions were therefore submitted by Paul Stillman, of New York, and unanimously adopted.
Resolved, in view of the imperious duty devolving upon us to publish the truth of God to the world, that it is advisable to make an appeal to the various orders of Christians, in reference to the Sabbath of the Bible, urging them to a thorough examination of the subject, as one of great importance to the cause of God.
Resolved, in accordance with the object of the foregoing resolution, that a committee be appointed to prepare an address to our brethren of the Baptist Denomination, to be issued under the sanction of the General Conference.”
Thomas B. Brown, Paul Stillman, and Nathan V. Hull, were appointed a Committee for the above purpose, who subsequently presented the following address, which was unanimously approved by the Conference; and measures were taken for its publication, and extensive circulation among the order of Christians particularly addressed.
DAVID NUNN, Moderator.
The Seventh-Day Baptist General Conference, to the Members of the Baptist Denomination throughout the United States, holding to the observation of the First Day of the Week as a Divine Institution.
Beloved Brethren:
When our Divine Redeemer dwelt on earth, he prayed that all his disciples might be “made perfect in one.” As this prayer was in harmony with the sure word of prophecy, which instructs us to look for a time when “the watchmen shall see, eye to eye, and sing with united voice,” we are sure that it will ultimately be answered.…
We rejoice, brethren, that you, as well as ourselves, are looking for this day of glory. Moreover, we have knowledge of your firm persuasion, that this glorious union of the now scattered forces of Israel, can be effected only upon the basis of divine truth. With a single glance you see the fallacy of that reasoning, which calls upon you, for the sake of union, to sacrifice the least particle of God’s word.…
We know, moreover, that it is the desire of your hearts, that all dissensions between Christians should be for ever ended.… Laboring as you do to expound to others the way of the Lord more perfectly, we cannot suppose that you are yourselves unwilling to learn. We, therefore, approach you with confidence, affectionately and earnestly requesting you to take into consideration the subject which is the only ground of difference between you and us. We conceive it to be a subject of great importance; and though some of you may have made it a matter of thought, we are persuaded that the great body of your denomination have dismissed it without any particular investigation.…
When we look over your large and influential denomination, we find, that, in reference to the subject upon which we now address you, you are divided into about three classes. I. Those who, acknowledging the perpetuity of the Sabbath-law, enforce the observance of the Sabbath by the fourth commandment, but change the day of its celebration from the seventh to the first day of the week. II. Those who see the impossibility of proving a change of the day, and, therefore, regard the commandment as abolished by the death of Christ. But, at the same time, they consider the first day of the week as an institution entirely new, to be regulated as to its observance wholly by the New Testament. III. Those who consider neither the Old nor the New Testament to impose any obligation upon them to observe a day of rest, and advocate one merely on the ground of expediency.
I. First, we address those of you who acknowledge the obligation of a Sabbath, but change the day of its celebration from the seventh to the first day of the week. We may be wanting in discernment, but it really appears to us, that in making the particular day to be observed to stand upon New Testament authority, and yet deriving all the obligation to sabbatize on that day from the Law, there is a departure from the great principle contended for by Baptists, that the extent and bearing of a law, both as to the duties it enjoins and the objects on which it terminates, are to be learned from the law itself, and not from other sources. On this principle you reject the logic of Pedobaptists, who, while they find the ordinance of baptism in the New Testament, go back to the law of circumcision to determine the subjects. You tell them, and very justly too, that the law of the institution is the only rule of obedience. But do you not fall into the same error, when the argument has respect to the Sabbath? We can see no more fitness in applying the law of the Sabbath to the first day of the week, than in applying the law of circumcision to the subjects of baptism.…
In justification of this change of the day, we often hear you plead the example of Christ and his apostles. But where do we find anything to this effect in their example? Did the apostles sabbatize on the first day of the week? Did the churches which were organized by them do so? Observe with marked attention, the question between you and us is not, Did they meet together and hold worship on that day? but, Did they sabbatize? that is, did they REST FROM THEIR LABOR on the first day of the week? Did they observe it AS a Sabbath? This is the true issue. We have often asked this question, but the only answer that we have received has been, that they assembled for worship. But this is not a candid way of meeting the point.… Your adroit evasion of the real question seems to place you much in the same predicament as were the Pharisees, when Christ asked them whence was the baptism of John. It appears as if you reasoned with yourselves, and said, “If we shall say they did sabbatize on the first day of the week, the evidence will be called for, and we cannot find it; but if we shall say they did not, we fear the day will lose its sacredness in the eyes of the people.” We do not by any means wish to charge you with a Pharisaic lack of principle, but we put it to your sober judgment, whether your position is not an awkward one. Brethren, reconsider this point, and see if you are not on Pedobaptist ground.
If the apostles did not sabbatize on the first day of the week, then it follows, as a matter of course, that whatever notoriety or dignity belonged to it, they did not regard it as a substitute for the Sabbath. Consequently, unless the Sabbath law was entirely abrogated by the death of Christ, the old Sabbath, as instituted in Paradise, and rehearsed from Sinai, continues yet binding, as “the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.”
But more than this. Even if it could be proved, that the apostles and primitive Christians did actually regard the first day of the week as a Sabbath, it would not follow that the old Sabbath is no longer in force, unless it could be proved that they considered the new as a SUBSTITUTE for the old; or that so far as the particular day was concerned, it was of a CEREMONIAL character. But where do we find proof for either of these? In the whole record of the transactions and teachings of the apostles, where do we find this idea of substitution? Nowhere.…
The controversy between us and you appears to be brought down to a very narrow compass. Did the apostles and primitive Christians sabbatize on the first day of the week? And, Is the world of mankind bound to imitate their example, or only the Church? If upon a solemn and prayerful consideration of this subject, you are persuaded that there is no proof that the early Christians regarded the first day as a Sabbath, (substituted in place of the seventh,) and will come out, and honestly avow your conviction, we have no fear that the controversy will be prolonged. For should you still be of opinion that some sort of notoriety was attached to the day, and that Christians met for worship, we shall not be very solicitous to dispute the point. The apostolic rule, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,” will then govern us.—(See Rom. 14:5, 6.) Our concern is not that you keep the first day of the week, but that you keep it in place of the Sabbath, thus making void the commandment of God. If once you discover, that Sunday is not the Sabbath by divine appointment, and therefore cannot be enforced upon the conscience, we are persuaded that your deep sense of the necessity of such an institution, will soon bring you to observance of the ancient Sabbath.
II. But we proceed to address those of you who regard the sabbatic law as having been nailed to the cross, and consider the First Day of the Week as an institution entirely new, regulated as to its observance wholly by the New Testament.
You, whom we now address, are exempt from some of the inconsistencies which we have exposed; but your theory labors under very serious difficulties, and is to be regarded, on the whole, as more obnoxious to the interests of religion, than the one we have been considering.
According to your position, the New Testament recognizes no Sabbath at all. Do not start at this charge. That it is repugnant to your feelings, we allow. You have never thought of anything else than entire abstinence from labor on the first day of the week. It is your day of rest, as well as worship. But on what ground do you make it a day of rest? What example have you for doing so? What law of the New Testament requires you to lay aside all your secular business?…
We are persuaded, brethren, that your conscientious scruples about laboring on the first day of the week, never resulted from the mere contemplation of apostolic example.… Even to this day a strong impression rests upon your minds, that the fourth Commandment contains much of moral excellence; too much to be thrown altogether away, notwithstanding your system of theology teaches its abrogation. Such is the true secret of your tenderness of conscience. Apostolic example has in reality nothing to do with it. Following the secret monitions of conscience, your prosperity is promoted in spite of your theological system. But sound reason discovers, that your experience and your theory are in opposition to each other.…
Now suppose one of your brethren attends public worship on the first day of the week, and—to make his conformity to what is supposed to be apostolic example as perfect as possible—participates in the breaking of bread. He then goes home, opens his shop, and commences labor, or into the field to drive his plough. By what law will you convince him of sin? Not the law of the Sabbath as contained in the Decalogue, for that you hold to be abolished. Not any law of the New Testament which says “keep the first day of the week holy; in it thou shalt not do any work,” for there is no such law. Not the law of apostolic example, for there is no proof that the apostles ever gave such example. The very utmost that you can with any show of reason pretend of their example, is, that they met together for worship and breaking of bread. To this example your brother has conformed to the very letter—who can say, he has not in spirit also? What now will you do with him …?
III. But we must address that class of Baptists who consider neither the Old nor the New Testament to impose any obligation to observe a day of rest, and advocate one merely on the ground of expediency. In some sections of our country, Baptists would consider it almost a slander upon their denomination to intimate that there were persons of such anti-Sabbath principles, wearing their livery.…
If there is no day of rest enjoined by divine authority, and the matter rests wholly upon expediency, we see no reason, except that the voice of the multitude is against it, why you cannot as well observe the seventh as the first day of the week. There would be no sacrifice of conscience in so doing, while it would be a tribute of respect to those who feel that the keeping of the seventh day is an indispensable part of duty. But it is not on this principle particularly that we desire you to change your ground. Feeling that it is not our party that must be honored, but rather divine truth, and our party only for the sake of the truth, we would much rather correct your doctrinal views.
Of course, you do not deny that a day of rest was once enjoined upon God’s chosen people. It is only under the gospel that you suppose all distinction of days to be annihilated.…
If the New Dispensation actually has abrogated the Sabbath, we do not believe that it is expedient to observe it. We cannot believe, however, that an institution so important to the civilization, refinement, and religious prosperity of mankind, has been abrogated. We refer you to our publications, and to the publications of those who have, in common with us, defended the perpetuity of the sabbatic law; and we entreat you to reconsider your ground. The doctrine of expediency! What a fruitful source of corruption has it been to the church of God! Not an anti-Christian, popish abomination, but what pleads something of this kind. Do, dear brethren, let it be expunged from your creed.
Brethren of the Baptist Denomination.—You are a great and growing people. Your influence is felt throughout the length and breadth of our land. We rejoice in your prosperity. “May the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and toward all men.” In your prosperity we behold, in a measure, our own. Your baptism is our baptism. Your church government is our government. Your doctrinal principles are ours; and there is nothing which constitutes any real ground of separation, except the great and important subject we now urge upon your attention.
The popularity you have gained as a Denomination, however, is not owing to your Sabbath principles. It is founded entirely on your views concerning the initiating ordinance of the gospel. These views are characterized by that perfect simplicity, which markes every divine institution. Hence you have won the affections of the common people, while, if you had attempted to operate on them by a more complicated theory, failure would have been the result.
This induces us to urge upon your notice the exceeding simplicity of the Sabbatarian argument, compared with all those theories which stand in opposition to it. It is adapted to persons of weak capacities, of whom there are thousands in the kingdom of Christ. Any illiterate person can open the Bible, and point to chapter and verse saying, “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God.” This is plain; he can understand it.…
In thus urging the simplicity of the argument for the Sabbath, we are but doing what you do in regard to Baptism.…
The extensive operations in which you are engaged for the conversion of the world, render it in the highest degree important, that you should not err on a question like this. If you are right, you ought to be very certain of it. Among the heathen you are extending the observance of Sunday, along with all your other sentiments. If you are thus sowing the seeds of error instead of truth, the evils who can calculate? Hence you cannot too early begin to review your ground.…
Our observations, if correct, go to show what a source of danger the Sunday heresy is to the Moral Law. The Sabbath is a most important precept of this law; “the golden clasp,” as an old writer quaintly observes, “which joins the two tables together; the sinew in the body of laws, which were written with God’s own finger; the intermediate precept, which participates of the sanctity of both tables; and the due observance of which is the fulfilling of the whole law.” This important precept is either set aside entirely; or its edge, and keenness, and all its power to cut a sinner’s soul, so muffled by a transfer to another day, that the united efforts of the church can do little or nothing toward impressing it on the conscience. Here, then, is a relaxation of the standard of morality; and while the standard is relaxed with regard to this one precept, in vain do we look for the Law, as a whole, to appear glorious in the eyes of men.
Brethren, can we hope that the subject on which we have addressed you, will receive your prayerful attention? Almost your entire denomination has slumbered over it; but may we not hope, that you will now awake? May we not hope, that it will be discussed in your private circles, and in your public assemblies; in your Bible classes, and in your Sunday schools:—that it will be studied by your ministers, and by the people in general; and that every one will, in the deep desire of his soul, pray, “Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may discern wondrous things out of thy Law.” …
McBeth, H. L. (1990). A Sourcebook for Baptist heritage. Includes index. (543). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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