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Book Review “On the First Day of the Week”

On the first day_Campbell_cover

“On the First Day of the Week” by Iain D. Campbell

The goal of Campbell’s book is to restore what was lost in terms of Sabbath observance among Christians, not only on the isle of Lewis (Scotland) where he pastors a church, but across the globe if possible. He aims to bolster the relationship of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day in hopes of reversing trends among Christians that evince a decreasing appreciation for the Lord’s Day. That is, there is something in the Sabbath command that will make our Lord’s Day more honoring to God and more profitable for us.

His writing style is friendly and instructional. It is as if you are sitting down with him and hearing his perspective on things sabbatical. This does not necessarily mean that he is logical, accurate or consistent within his writings, but he does represent well the Puritan form of Sunday Sabbatarianism that eventually gave rise to modern seventh-day Sabbatarianism.

Campbell does not present many examples of how the Lord’s Day has taken a down turn, but here are a few of them.

  1. “It is now possible to buy groceries and petrol on the Lord’s Day…” (10, 200)
  2. “…and to leave from and arrive at our island…each Sunday” (10, 200).
  3. “…many Christians see nothing wrong with working or taking part in other activities on the Lord’s Day” (11) such as sports, birthdays, or employment (199).
  4. A triple jumper competed on Sunday and only earned a bronze medal (182-3).
  5. Rare that “you could recognize the churchgoing public by their appearance” (194).
  6. “Church life erodes …and gives way to new, ‘seeker-friendly’ forms of evangelism…” (196).
  7. “…times and days of worship must bend to accommodate the needs of [seekers]” (196).
  8. Christians “easily opt out of church when (they) would not miss an important social function” or they fail to attend both morning and evening services (198).

He summarizes his observations by stating, “If my Sunday activities are secular ones, then they are by definition unnecessary, and they fail to honour Jesus Christ” (195). Unfortunately, none of the above observations is supported by a scriptural command that confirms the sinfulness of these activities. However, I would agree that the day of corporate worship—Sunday—is best left on the day that the Lord himself has chosen.

The Sabbath of Old Testament was defined by a number of laws, seven pairs in my analysis. They are: 1) it occurs on the 7th day of each week, beginning Friday evening and ending Saturday evening; 2) remain within your home throughout Israel, though a representative convocation occurs at the temple in Jerusalem; 3) do no work, but rest; 4) consider the creation and consider the redemption from Egypt; 5) do not kindle a fire and prepare beforehand what you should eat; 6) sacrifice two lambs and bake twelve loaves each Sabbath; 7) punish Sabbath-breakers and stone the obstinate. However, Campbell does not enumerate them, nor does he discuss how these laws should be applied under the New Testament, with the exception that Christians must not work, but rest, attending two church services on Sunday, dressing appropriately, and consecrating the whole day to the Lord (171). This is a rather selective use of the law that appears to support only his modified Puritan form of Sunday Sabbatarianism.

Also, when tackling the Sabbath/Lord’s Day controversy, one would expect some critical analysis of the opponent’s point of view, but there is very little offered here. On the theological front, he mentions Lincoln and Bauckham from Carson’s anthology From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (1982), and Boice, Bruce and Bunyan minimally. It does not appear that he uncovers any really insidious doctrines or errors since he believes these men are, for all practical purposes, calling the Lord’s Day a “Christian Sabbath” (146). This calls into question his main thesis. Does the view that the Sabbath is a fulfilled commandment and therefore not binding on Christians really impact the Christian’s attitude toward and behavior on the Lord’s Day? Or are there other “forces” at work? Sure, they go shopping on Sunday after church, but Campbell does not demonstrate a connection between this and say, a decreased zeal for serving the Lord or a dampened heart of gratefulness for one’s salvation.

The bottom line, as Campbell agrees, is which viewpoint is consistent with the teaching of scripture (12). If Campbell is right, then Christians are enjoying themselves much more than they should on Sunday. If Campbell is wrong, then he is advocating the yoke of legalism instead of liberty.

The storyline of his book is broken down into eight chapters to show that the whole Bible supports a sabbatical theme and that the Sabbath is relevant to every culture since creation.

Ch Title Key Topics
1 God and the Sabbath 7th day rest; creation ordinance, morality of 10C; covenant
2 Moses and the Sabbath Redemption; holiness, work v. rest, extent of application; blessedness; sign; feasts
3 Prophets and the Sabbath Isaiah; blessedness; new moon; Amos; buy & sell; Jeremiah; burden; Ezekiel; given; profaned; Nehemiah; gates
4 Jesus and the Sabbath Nazareth; healing; Lord of the Sabbath; Sabbath made for man; death and resurrection
5 Apostles and the Sabbath Law; continuity v. discontinuity; Lord’s Day; Christian Sabbath; Shadow; sabbatismos
6 Puritans and the Sabbath Owen; Henry; Westminster Confession of Faith; Watson; Edwards; Sabbath-keeping; legalism
7 21st Century Christians Lordship; keeping the Lord’s Day; holiness; works of necessity and mercy; principles
8 Heaven and the Sabbath Redemption; holiness; worship; rest; resurrection; family


He begins with “God and the Sabbath” to advance the theory that God practiced the Sabbath and therefore it is a moral precept. However, what should be a matter of interest is that Moses did not use the word “Sabbath” at all in the book of Genesis, but he did use the word “rest.” The Sabbath, on the other hand, is associated with the covenant with Israel. The progression of his chapters is appropriate because the theme of REST is presented at the beginning of creation and as the final place and state of the redeemed. The final chapter was certainly uplifting.

There are many aspects related to the question of applying Sabbath law to the Christian’s Lord’s Day. Campbell touches on most of them, but he doesn’t explore them in sufficient depth to make his case. Indeed, the most important aspect of this discussion is whether the Sabbath command was ceremonial or not, but he does not review what any Reformation fathers wrote on that topic prior to the WCF. He seems to acknowledge some differences between the Mosaic Sabbath and the “Christian Sabbath”—which would imply acknowledgement of some ceremoniality of the Sabbath commandment—but he just doesn’t clarify his position. For example, he mentions that Christ’s sacrifice annulled the blood-letting commandments, but he doesn’t explain why the “bread of the presence” is no longer prepared on our “Christian Sabbath.” To justify moving the Sabbath to the 1st day of the week, he falters on explaining why the 7th day of the week is ceremonial, but the frequency of every 7th day is not. He hesitates to define “work,” yet states that it is “cessation from that kind of activity involved in the labours of the other six days” and “[turning] aside from secular labour, from all unnecessary labour.” But then he disagrees with those whose definition of unnecessary labor includes shaving, brushing a jacket or polishing shoes (56-57). If the definition of labor is ultimately decided by the individual, then what does that say about the supposed intrinsic morality of Sabbath-keeping? If blessings are ours for keeping the Sabbath, how can we know what activities put those blessings at risk?

So what makes some Old Testament laws ceremonial? In the context in which these laws were given, they appeared to be rooted in Israel’s history, specifically her redemption, and they guided her approach to God. Retrospectively, they are laws given by God in which the primary intent was to foreshadow the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the beneficiaries and benefits of His great salvation. So they are symbolical, metaphorical, and prophetical in contradistinction to reflecting the nature of God’s attributes, such as truth, faithfulness, and love. If we adopt the New Testament theological perspective of Paul and the author of Hebrews, ceremonial laws were types, shadows, and examples (Col 2:16; Heb 8:5; 9:8; 10:1). They were weak and unprofitable (Heb 7:18-19), and temporary (Heb 9:10) because they could not deliver what they seemed to be designed to deliver. They were old (Heb 8:13) and served as patterns to herald something better, newer, and more real (Heb 8:5-6; 9:23-24; 10:1).

So how does the Sabbath measure up? Does it typify something greater? Does it symbolize something redemptive? Did obedience to the Sabbath command deliver what it promised? Does the New Testament define the Sabbath as a type or shadow? Does the theme of rest escalate into something better and more magnificent? Is it similar to other ceremonial commands? Let’s review how Campbell speaks of the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath commandment is directly related to the theme of redemption……” (54)

“… Israel is all of God’s people (a spiritual, not an ethnic, Israel), and the covenant is now the new covenant, which has no need of ritual and ceremony.” (59)

“Within the tabernacle there were many things that were reminiscent of Paradise and of Redemption… It is in this context that God appoints the Sabbaths has signs of the covenant… The symbolism of creation is evident, therefore, as much in the Sabbath principle as in the tabernacle construction and its account.” (62-63)

“[Quoting John Frame] ‘The Sabbath is God’s dwelling in time, the temple is his dwelling in space’.” (63)

“Leviticus 23…outlines the annual programme of religious festivals which God asks his people to observe. Interestingly, these begin with the Sabbath regulation… This is full of theological significance.” (64)

“[Quoting Andrew Bonar] ‘And it [the Sabbath] is to be kept when all the other feasts have finished – a type of the deep rest yet to come when earth’s sins are swept away…” (64)

“Running through the calendar are the sabbatical principles of holiness, rest, consecration and worship which have been part of the experience of man from the beginning, and of Israel since her redemption. In them all, God was teaching his people through symbols and types.” (66)

“For that reason, while the Sabbath ceremonials have passed away, the Sabbath principle itself remains valid and binding.” (66)

“Each Sabbath was a reminder of God’s intervention in history through grace, in order to deal with the problem of sin.” (69)

“[Reflecting on the stick–gatherer who was stoned to death outside the camp] Is it not that Christ has suffered for us ‘outside the camp’ (Hebrews 13:11)? … He has brought the gracious aspect of redemptive history to its fullest revelation, so that now we see clearly what could only be dimly grasped before.” (71)

“… for Jesus the meaning of the Sabbath, as well as the weight of Old Testament prophecy, was concentrated in a unique way on his Person and Work.” (107)

“…the seventh day Sabbath gives way to the first day Sabbath, transferring the day signifying spiritual rest…” (129)

“The fact that Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on the first day of the week verified the typology, and showed that what the Old Testament had longed for was now here… There was to be no more Pentecost, just as there was to be no more Passover.” (130)

“The reality was that Pentecost always demonstrated that the first day of the week was to be significant, and that the old Sabbath was ready to give way to something better.” (130)

“There are many things in the Old Testament, such as sacrificial system and other elements of typology, which in themselves were unable to secure full pardon for the sinner. They anticipated the coming of Jesus Christ, whose work at Calvary rendered every other sacrifice and every other basis of our acceptance as obsolete and defunct.” (139)

“Outward symbols of covenant membership, like circumcision, count for nothing, now that Christ has offered himself up for us.” (141)

“… it is clear that Paul is referring to the old, Jewish, seventh day of the week Sabbath. That was, indeed, part of the shadow which anticipated the coming of a new revelation.” (148)

“It is not difficult to see how the early church, with the major transition from Judaism to Christianity which was going on across the Testaments, found it easy to fall into the error of thinking that rites and rituals from the older covenant should be carried over into the new.” (149)

“… the writer then links the ‘rest’ of the land of Canaan with God’s rest at creation (Hebrews4:4). The thought is that as God entered into ‘rest’ on the seventh creation day, so he provided a ‘rest’ which his people could enjoy in their inheritance of the promised land. Yet, as verse 8 demonstrates, Canaan could never have been the total fulfillment of the promise that God would give his people ‘rest.’ Ultimately, that rest is ours in the glory of heaven, the full and consummate enjoyment of the communion we have with God through the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ.” (152)

It should be obvious that Campbell cannot avoid describing the Sabbath in ceremonial or typological terms. If it looks, smells, and tastes like a ceremonial commandment, then it is quite likely a ceremonial commandment.

Pastor Campbell’s heart is in the right place. There is nothing wrong with encouraging believers to assemble together on the Lord’s Day each week. Like Campbell, I wish that all people who profess to be Christians would actually attend church regularly and contribute to the health of the body by practicing the “one anothers”. The author of Hebrews saw Jewish believers withdraw from the life of the church and so he admonished his readers “to consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together… (Heb10:24-25).” This is just common sense. The best antidote for worldliness and deception, despair and fear should be keeping company with fellow believers. But the author of Hebrews did not appeal to the Sabbath commandment because it was already causing nostalgic Hebrew Christians to separate from Lord’s Day worship. It is improper, in my mind, to appeal to the bygone Sabbath to promote the Lord’s Day. There is already enough theology in the Lord’s Day to promote itself.

If you are interested in reading a contemporary explanation of the Puritan’s view of a Sabbath-flavored Lord’s Day, then this is a good book to read. But read it critically.


  1. Manfred says:

    Excellent review, my brother – thanks for posting. I found The Sabbath in Puritan New England most instructive for how they practiced this aspect of their theology, when they ruled over the early state church:

    In my own research on this topic, I read from Jonathan Edwards to Walter Chantry – every “Christian Sabbath” advocate had major weaknesses where the Scriptures do not support their argument and they fill in the blanks with assertions and philosophy, reminding me of the biologists in the movie Jurassic Park who filled in dinosaur DNA with frog DNA.

  2. 1. Thanks.
    2. Thanks for the link. I’ll read it some day.
    3. Do I feel a book review of Jonathan Edwards’ “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath” coming from you?
    4. Loved your analogy.

    • Manfred says:

      It’s been a while since I read Edward’s “The Perpetuity and Change of the Sabbath”; don’t know if I will go back and write a review. I was struck how he used what we would call an urban legend as foundation for stating as fact that the Hebrews crossed and coming out of the Red Sea on the Sabbath, which served as foundational for his argument that Christ crossing over and raising up in victory over death was reason for seeing the Sabbath Day being changed from the 7th to the 1st day. Sabbatarian arguments that reach that far beyond Scripture for support lose me quickly.

      I did write a review of Walter Chantry’s “Call the Sabbath a Delight”:

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