While reading this book, I decided to learn more about the author and came upon an autobiography published posthumously from his dairy and notes. The author of a book wants to know his audience, but a book reviewer wants to know the author. The editors of his biography remarked that Shepard had a “simple, childlike confidence in God, [a] heartfelt and earnest piety, and . . . an unaffected devotional spirit.”[i] After his death, mourners lauded his treatise, Theses Sabbaticae, “wherin (sic) he hath handled the morality of the Sabbath with a degree of reason, reading, and religion which is truly extraordinary.”[ii] The title of his publication expresses his affinity for Latin which he sprinkles throughout his dissertation on the Sabbath.
Thomas Shepard was born on November 5, 1605, the day it was rumored that supporters of the Roman Catholic Church were to “blow up” the Protestant-controlled English Parliament. His father could not believe that such an act could be done in the name of the church and so named his son Thomas after the incredulous apostle of Jesus Christ. His father, William, married a grocer’s daughter and had three sons and six daughters, but only four of them were alive at the time of his writing. His unnamed mother died when he was four and his father’s second wife died when he was ten. His father took a third wife, who did not like Thomas at all, and she succumbed to sickness as well. Shepard eventually studied at Cambridge University, earning his Master of Arts, and took up ministry in Essex. He eventually married in 1632 “the best and fittest woman in the world” amidst the religious conflicts of the day. Parker mentions Shepard in his book about the parliamentary conflicts about the Sabbath roughly during 1560-1630. Shepard is described as a crypto-papist[iii] who made arguments before the parliament in 1621 that were not well-received. He was but sixteen years of age. Parker summarizes, “Other members attacked Shepard for his abuse of God’s word, and the Commons passed a resolution that he should be ‘cast out of the House as an unworthy member’.”[iv]
In October 16, 1634, he took steps to leave old England with his wife and first son, Thomas, to New England to escape religious turmoil possibly related to his Separatist beliefs. His son died early in the travels before leaving England. His wife bore a second son, whom he also named Thomas. The journey continued in August 1635 through the seas with various terrors and they finally landed in New England in October. His journey was part of the “Great Migration” of Puritans from England during this time providing continued growth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His wife, Margaret, died shortly after arriving in 1636. He married a second time in October, 1637. Their first son died. Their second son Samuel was alive during his final years, but his third son, John, died in infancy. Another son was born in April 1646, living but three years. So tender a heart he maintained, that in all these deaths he seemed to believe they were provoked by his own sin.[v] He married a third time in 1647 and had a son who would later become a minister. Thomas Shepard died August 25, 1649 at the age of 44. He was then pastor of the Church of Christ, at Cambridge. His life was brief and full of hardship, yet he served the Lord with all his might and mind.
This great man was familiar with arguments antagonistic to the Sunday Sabbath viewpoint from such authors as Primrose,[vi] Heylin,[vii] Ironside,[viii] Wallæus,[ix] Traske,[x] Gomarus,[xi] Brabourn,[xii] Broad[xiii], and others. These men and their works are described in Robert Cox’s (1865) The Literature of the Sabbath Question. So Shepard determined to defend the Westminster (1632) idea that the Sabbath of the Decalogue is in continuing force not only for the church, but for the world, and that this day was divinely selected to be the first day of the week since the resurrection of Jesus. His writing was also occasioned by King Charles I, who republished in 1632 King James’s 1618 Book of Sports, that conveyed the King’s desire that the populace are at liberty to engage in Sunday pastimes after church, notwithstanding the judgmentalism of Puritans.[xiv]
This may have been a well-respected work in the 17th century, but it makes for difficult reading today. His sentences are long and convoluted, some of them filling nearly a whole page. An example follows.
“The Familists and Antinomians of late, like the Manichees of old, do make all days equally holy under the gospel, and none to be observed more than another by virtue of any command of God, unless it be from some command of man to which the outward man they think should not stick to conform, or unless it be pro re nata, or upon several occasions, which special occasions are only to give the alarums for church meetings and public Christian assemblies—an audacious assertion, cross to the very light of nature among the blind heathens, who have universally allowed the Deity whom they ignorantly worshiped the honor of some solemn duties; cross to the verdict of Popish schoolmen and prelatists, whose stomachs never stood much toward any Sabbath at all; cross to the scope of the law of the Sabbath, which, if it hath any general morality, (not denied scarce to any of Moses’ judicials,) surely one would think it should lie in the observation of some day or days, though not in a seventh day, for which now we do not contend; cross also to the appointment of the gospel, foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel, (Is. lvi. 4, 6; Ezek. xliii. 27,) made mention of by our Saviour to continue long after the abolishing of all ceremonies by his death, (Matt. xxiv. 20,) who therefore bids them pray, that their flight may not be in the winter, nor on the Sabbath day, which, whether it be the Jewish or Christian Sabbath, I dispute not; only this is evident, that he hath an eye to some special set day, and which was lastly ordained by Christ, and observed in the primitive churches, commonly called the Lord’s day, as shall be shown in due place, and which notion, under pretense of more spiritualness, in making every day a Sabbath, (which is utterly unlawful and impossible, unless it be lawful to neglect our own work all the week long, and without which there can be no true Sabbath;) doth really undermine the true Sabbath, in special set days; and look, as to make every man a king and judge in a Christian commonwealth would be the introduction of confusion, and consequently the destruction of a civil government, so to crown every day with equal honor unto God’s set days and Sabbath which he hath anointed and exalted above the rest, this anarchy and confusion of days doth utterly subvert the true Sabbath; to make every day a Sabbath is a real debasing and dethroning of God’s Sabbath.”[xv]
There were times that I followed his logic and agreed with his conclusions, and sometimes he asked good questions, but didn’t always answer them. Yet conversely he made outrageous statements and non sequiturs. Overall, his arguments for the morality of the Sabbath were barely understandable. He spent little time on the relationship of the Sabbath to ceremonial law, typology, and eschatology. He provided no detailed research regarding the expression of sabbatical natural law in primitive peoples or earlier cultures, and he failed to explain how the Christian church missed this critical doctrine until his time.
“Because the express words of the commandment do not run thus, viz., “Remember to keep holy that seventh day,” but more generally, “the Sabbath day;” it is in the beginning, and so it is in the end of this commandment, where it is not said, that God blessed that seventh day, but the Sabbath day; by which expression the wisdom of God, as it points to that particular seventh day, that it should be sanctified, so it also opens a door of liberty for change, if God shall see meet, because the substance of the commandment doth not only contain that seventh day, but the Sabbath day, which may be upon another seventh, as well as upon that which God appointed first; and that the substance of the command is contained in those first words, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,: may appear from the repetition of the same commandment, (Deut. v.12,) where these words, “As the Lord thy God commanded thee,” are immediately inserted before the rest of the words of the commandment be set down, to show thus much, that therein is contained the substance of the fourth command; the words following being added only to press the duty, and to point out the particular day, which at that time God would have them to observe.”[xvi]
It was hard not to recall in his biography his recollection of former times as a student. “The third yeare wherin I was Sophister (at Cambridge) I began to be foolish & proud, to show myselfe in the public schooles there to be a disputer about things which now I see I did not know then at all but only prated about them.”[xvii] While only occasionally did he mock the ignorance of those with whom he disagreed, he was generally methodical and studious in discussing the multitude of considerations in this debate.
His work is divided into four sections. First, he determines to prove by many infallible proofs, termed “theses,” that a religious rest every seven days is a moral commandment from the beginning of creation. This section is comprised of 207 propositions in which he lays out his powers of deduction and induction. His main argument for the morality of the Sabbath is its presence within the Decalogue. While he discusses the fact that moral and ceremonial laws are often listed side by side in the OT and that how laws are listed is no way to determine the difference between them, he simply asserts that it is not so in the Decalogue—they are all moral. This is a logical fallacy in itself as he assumes to be true what he seeks to prove. He expends considerable ink on the relationship of the morality of the Sabbath to the law of nature, whether the morality is abstract or concrete, general or particular, primary or secondary, moral-moral or moral-ceremonial, private or public, internal or external, and direct or indirect. This was difficulty reading to be sure and offers little for Sabbatarians to draw upon for the defense of the morality of the Sabbath. As he considers the creation week, he makes the outlandish statement that “God never made himself an example of any ceremonial duty, it being unsuitable to his glorious excellency to do so.”[xviii] He states this as if it were a well-known fact, and then claims that this is the reason why the weekly Sabbath is moral and the yearly Sabbath of the Land is not. Shepard fails to observe that God’s seventh day rest was not a recurring Sabbath nor described as such, so His example doesn’t actually demonstrate the weekly Sabbath. Shepard also fails to notice that God gave Adam an example of a bloody sacrifice (Gen 3:21), the foremost of all ceremonial laws. So it certainly is acceptable for God to demonstrate a behavior that has ceremonial implications. The manna was provided in the wilderness at the set times that He willed to provide it, doing so for six days and refraining on the seventh. His example provided the experience necessary to initially teach the Israelites the rules about Sabbath-keeping and He continued to provide manna in the same manner week after week for forty years. The Lord tutored Israel in Sabbath law and He directly involved Himself in the sanctification and sanction of it. God most certainly made Himself an example of ceremonial law.[xix] On the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus provided an example during the annual seder of the new covenant meal—the Lord’s Supper—which is not moral but a ceremonial institution, because it had a beginning that very night and will come to a conclusion when Christ comes into his kingdom.
The second focus of his book is in defending the change of the day of week on which the Sabbath occurs, from the seventh day of the week to the first. As a Lord’s Day advocate, I agree with him that the Christians are obligated to assemble on Sunday and that the authority for it came through the apostles and the ground for it due to the resurrection, but I disagree that the Sabbath itself was reassigned to Sunday. I agree that assembling together (“going to church”) is not a matter of Christian liberty, otherwise there would be no sin in forsaking the assembly. So Shepard attempts to explain why the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday is ceremonial and the Christian Sabbath on Sunday is moral. According to Shepard there was a moral Sabbath practiced by the patriarchs and then the Jews were given their Sabbath which is only “accidentally typical”; that is, it was assigned typological attributes specific to the Jews which are not essentially moral. Those typical features may be done away with—and he assures us they were abrogated—but the force of the fourth commandment continues. He asks, “What type is affixed and annexed to the Sabbath?” and answers, “I think it difficult to find out.” Of interest here is that he does not think that by shifting the Sabbath one day that the morality of it is undermined. He explains that the Jews celebrated their Sabbath at the end of six days work and Christians celebrate their Sabbath at the beginning of the week, thus both give the Lord one-seventh of their time, which is the moral requirement. If this is the case, then the Lord required the observation of two consecutive Sabbaths (which disrupted the rhythm of the universe) and He altered the concept of rest as a prelude to work instead of the completion of work. Well, few there be (Sabbatarians included) that can’t help but think of the Sabbath as something to work toward, the fruit of the labor. It remains a rest for having worked. For example, Pink asserts “He who never works is unfitted for worship…Work is to pave the way for worship…The more diligent and faithful we are in performing the duties of the six days, the more shall we value the rest of the seventh.”[xx] But some Sabbatarians disagree. Plonk argues that Adam began his week with worship. “What needs to be emphasized here is that worship comes before work, both in connection with creation and redemption. The day of rest precedes the days of toil.”[xxi] So it is unclear whether Sabbatarians are following the example of God or Adam. Shepard sees the analogy between God’s creation rest coming at the end of His work and Christ’s rest coming at the end of His work, only Christ’s rest was not in the grave on the Sabbath but on the first day of His resurrection. Since “man’s sin spoiled the first rest . . .the day of it might be justly abrogated,” he avers. Taking what he says all together: God’s rest was the last day of the week, but for Adam his rest began the week, and since Adam ruined the last day of the week Sabbath, the Jews were made to follow the example of God by observing the Sabbath on the last day of the week; and this was typological and could be abolished (only that would make God an example of a ceremony); so Christ having paid for sin and completed the work of redemption, rested on the first day of the week and restored the original intent that man begin the week with a Sabbath (even though the Creator’s perfect rest was on the last day of the week).[xxii] The more he babbles, the more the incongruities accrue.
Thirdly, he evaluates various opinions about the timing of the observation of the Sabbath; that is, when it ought to begin and end. This was a fiercely debated aspect of Sabbath-keeping in his day and so the English Parliament in 1656 defined the Lord’s Day as the time between midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night.[xxiii] In opposition to this act, Shepard ably demonstrates that the Jewish Sabbath was from “even to even” and deduces that the proper observation of the Christian Sabbath should encompass the same timeframe. “If therefore the Jewish Sabbath ended at even, the Christian Sabbath must immediately succeed it, and begin it then, or else a moral rule is broken.”[xxiv] For Shepard, this is a moral issue, and it is a sin to think otherwise. He is but a step away from seventh-day Sabbatarianism, which incidentally got its first church in England in 1653, less than five years after the publication of his book. And the first Seventh-day Baptist Church was formed in the colonies in 1671.
Lastly, he engages the reader with his thoughts about the manner in which the Sabbath is sanctified. As a preacher at least influenced by Puritanism, he is aghast at the libertarian attitude of Roman Catholics who make Sunday a “dancing Sabbath.” To keep the Sunday Sabbath holy, one must look to the Jewish legislation. “Whatever holy duties the Lord required of the Jews, which were not ceremonial, the same duties he requires of us upon this day.”[xxv] Most readers of Exodus think the Jews were not permitted to cook, make a fire, or gather sticks on the Sabbath—but according to Shepard, these are permissible on the Christian Sabbath, not because these were ceremonial laws now abolished or antiquated civil laws, but because they were never legal restrictions in the first place. He has an entirely different take on these three supposed prohibitions. His exploration of these topics in Theses 6-8 should make Reformed exegetes cringe. He cites Numbers 11:8, which states, “The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil,” and concludes that it was lawful to do this on the Sabbath. He sees in this passage a daily activity. However, Exodus 16:23 states that the Jews were to gather on the sixth day the quantity for two days, only they should “Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.” So it is quite clear that the Lord did not allow them to prepare the manna on the Sabbath. After all, they tried to put God to the test (cf. Ex 17:7), but He turned it around and put them to the test (Ex 16:4). What sort of test would it be if they could go out every day and gather manna every day and cook it every day? The consensus of three thousand years of Judaism and nearly two thousand years of Christianity mean little to Shepard on this matter. Klagsbrun (JSS) says, “Laws regulating the preparation of food for the Sabbath ahead of time would be based on the manna that anticipated the Sabbath.”[xxvi] Kaplan (JSS) states that the use of fire is a prototype of work because it is “one of the prime ways in which man demonstrates his mastery over nature.”[xxvii] Commenting on this passage, Henry (CS) states, “On that day they were to fetch in enough for two days, and to prepare it, v. 23. The law was very strict, that they must bake and seeth, the day before, and not on the sabbath day.”[xxviii] Regardless, Shepard is not so strict about work restrictions, restricting the work restriction only to servile works that are “done for any worldly gain, profit, or livelihood, to acquire and purchase that things of this life by weekday labor… hence buying, selling, sowing, reaping, which are done for worldly gain, are unlawful on this day, being therefore servile work; hence also worldly sports and pastimes.”[xxix] But it is permissible to cook, build a fire, and gather sticks on the Christian Sabbath. However, it is an open question whether presumptuous Sabbath-breakers should be put to death. He addresses the fact that God performs works of maintenance in His good providence, but Shepard disallows sweeping the house, washing clothes, or watering horses. It is interesting to me how the Puritans despised the ceremonies of Judaism, the legalisms of the Pharisees, the superstitions of Roman Catholics, and the doctrinal inventions of Popery, yet their views about the Christian Sabbath are blood kin to them all.
[i] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p.3.
[ii] Ibid., p. 104.
[iii] I could find no actual denominational association for Shepard. He seems aligned with Puritan beliefs, but does not hold to the strictness they are known for regarding the Sabbath; and in his writings, “Puritan” is a pejorative term. There were dissenters, and separatists, and non-conformists at the time, so I gather that he was a Congregationalist.
[iv] Parker, Kenneth L. The English Sabbath, p. 171.
[v] Six epidemics of smallpox affected the Boston area from 1636-1698 (Campbell, American Disasters). At this time, the prevailing belief was that calamities were brought on by the will of God.
[vi] Alt. Primerose, David. Minister at Rouen. Authored A Treatise of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in 1636, supportive of the Declaration of Sports.
[vii] Alt. Heylyn; Sub-dean of Westminster and Chaplain to Charles I; Wrote The History of the Sabbath in 1636 with a preface to the king “to show them how much they deceived not only themselves and others, in making the old Jewish Sabbath of equal age and observation with the Law of Nature, and preaching their new Sabbath doctrines in the Church of Christ, with which the Church hath no acquaintance.” He denies that the Sabbath was instituted any earlier than in the wilderness as described in Exodus and that the Lord’s Day is not a Sabbath at all, nor had it ever been during the long history of the church, not until after the Reformation.
[viii] Ironside, Gilbert. Bishop of Bristol; His 1637 book answers seven questions regarding the Sabbath dispute; denies that Adam was given the Sabbath; that the 4th commandment obliges Christians to observe the Sabbath; that devoting one day a week to worship is not natural, nor moral.
[ix] Wallæus, Anthony. Professor of Divinity at Leyden; authored a dissertation on the Sabbath in 1628.
[x]Traske, John. In 1620 published curiously titled “A Treatise of Liberty from Judaism” in which he takes the morality of the Sabbath to its logical end, and advocated Saturday Sabbatarianism, in addition to Jewish food laws. According to Cox, Heylin wrote about Traske, telling of his public whipping and 3 year incarceration, afterward he recanted his “rather humorous than hurtful” opinions and died in obscurity (Cox, p. 153).
[xi] Alt. Gomar, Francis; his 1628 investigation into the origin of the Sabbath denies that the Sabbath was instituted at creation, neither does the 4th commandment oblige all men to religious rest one day in seven.
[xii] Alt. Brabourne, Theophilus; a Puritan minister; reasons that if the 4th commandment is moral, then that affirms the Saturday Sabbath as obligatory upon the church; and further denies the Sabbath was moved to Sunday. Those of this theological bent were called “Sabbatarians” for holding to a Saturday Sabbath, but his followers (and of Traske) are now called 7th Day Baptists. Cox states that Brabourne was brought under pressure by a Commission of Charles I, and submitted to orthodox doctrines (p. 162).
[xiii] Broad, Thomas. Issued a tract regarding the 4th Commandment in 1621, advising that the Lord’s Day be kept as it has been since the resurrection of Jesus, without the formalities of the Sabbath.
[xiv] Cox states (p. 163) that when the Puritans got the legislative advantage, “in 1643 it was ordered by the Long Parliament to be burned by the hands of the common hangman… and all having copies of it were required to deliver them up to be thus disposed of.”
[xv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae (1649), reprinted 2002, Dahlonega, GA: Crown Rights Book Company, p. 73-74.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 135.
[xvii] Shepard, Thomas. Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, Boston: Pierce and Parker, 1832, p. 20.
[xviii] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 38-39.
[xix] This is similar to the statement: “Don’t require of others what you are not willing to do yourself.”
[xx] Pink, Arthur W. The Ten Commandments, p. 28
[xxi] Pronk, Cornelis. “Worship Comes Before Work” March 1995 (Reprinted in “Keeping the Christian Sunday”).
[xxii] The view that the patriarchal Sabbath was on the first day of the week is mentioned in the JFB Commentary on Exodus 16:23-26.
[xxiii] Cox, Robert. The Literature of the Sabbath Question, p. 254.
[xxiv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 241.
[xxv] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 254.
[xxvi] Klagsbrun, Francine. The Fourth Commandment, p. 28.
[xxvii] Kaplan, Aryeh. Sabbath Day of Eternity, p. 35.
[xxviii] Henry, Matthew. Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 1 p. 271 (Ex 16:22-31). However, Henry relaxes this law for Christians: “This does not now make it unlawful for us to dress meat on the Lord’s day, but directs us to contrive our family affairs so that they may hinder us as little as possible in the work of the sabbath.”
[xxix] Shepard, Thomas. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 257.