The following excerpt is taken from Dabney’s Systematic Theology, Lecture XXXII, on the fourth commandment.
The second group of passages which are used against our theory of Sabbath obligation are, Rom. xiv: 5-6; Gal. iv: 9-11; Col. ii: 16, 17. . . .
The facts in which all are agreed, which explain the Apostle’s meaning in these passages, are these: After the establishment of the new dispensation, the Christians converted from among the Jews had generally combined the practice of Judaism with the forms of Christianity. They observed the Lord’s day, baptism, and the Lord’s supper; but they also continued to keep the seventh day, the passover, and circumcision. At first it was proposed by them to enforce this double system on all Gentile Christians; but this project was rebuked by the meeting of apostles and elders at Jerusalem, recorded in Acts xv. A large part, however, of the Jewish Christians, out of whom ultimately grew the Ebionite sect, continued to observe the forms of both dispensations; and restless spirits among the mixed churches of Jewish and Gentile converts planted by Paul, continued to attempt their enforcement on Gentiles also; some of them conjoining with this Ebionite theory the graver heresy of a justification by ritual observances. Thus, at this day, this spectacle was exhibited. In the mixed churches of Asia Minor and the West, some brethren went to the synagogue on Saturday, and to the church-meeting on Sunday, keeping both days religiously; while some kept only Sunday. Some felt bound to keep all the Jewish festivals and fasts, while others paid them no regard. And those who had not Christian light to apprehend these Jewish observances as non-essentials, found their consciences grievously burdened or offended by the diversity. It was to quiet this trouble that the apostle wrote these passages. Thus far we agree.
We, however, further assert, that by the beggarly elements of “days,” “months,” “times,” “years,” “holy-days,” ” new-moons,” ” Sabbath-days,” the apostle means Jewish festivals, and those alone. The Christian’s festival, Sunday, is not here in question; because about the observance of this there was no dispute nor diversity in the Christian churches. Jewish and Gentile Christians alike consented universally in its sanctification. When Paul asserts that the regarding of a day, or the not regarding it, is a non-essential, like the eating or not eating of meats, the natural and fair interpretation is, that he means those days which were in debate, and no others. When he implies that some innocently “regarded every day alike,” we should understand, every one of those days which were subjects of diversity—not the Christians’ Sunday, about which there was no dispute. . . .
In our remaining discussion of the passages cited from the epistles, we may confine our remarks to Col. ii: 16-17. For it contains all the apparent difficulties for the Sabbatarian, and all the supposed arguments for his opponent, in the strongest form. The point made by Calvin upon the words, “Sabbath-days, . . . . are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ,” is far the most plausible, and indeed the only one of serious difficulty. It is in substance this: That if it be admitted that the Lord’s day was never included by the earlier Christians in the term Sabbath—and the apostle is here condemning the Jewish holy-days only—still the fact will remain that the Jewish Sabbath was a shadow. That is, it was a typical, and not a perpetual moral institution, so that it must pass away along with all the other types, after the substance comes, unless some positive New Testament precept re-enact it. But there is no such precept. To this we answer, that the Sabbath was to the Jews both a perpetual, moral institution, and a type. That it was the former, we have proved in the first general branch of our discussion. It was as old as the race of man, was given to all the race, was given upon an assigned motive of universal application, and to satisfy a necessity common to the whole race, was founded on man’s natural relations to his Maker, was observed before the typical dispensation came among all tribes, was re-enacted in the decalogue where all the precepts are perpetual, and was enjoined on foreigners as well as Jews in the Holy Land: while from all types foreigners were expressly excluded. That it was to the Jews also a type, we admit. Like the new-moons, it was marked by an additional number of sacrifices. It was to the Israelites a memorial of their exodus from Egypt, and their covenant of obedience to God. Deut. v: 15, Exod. xxxi: 13; Ezek. xx: 12. It was for a time, at least, a foreshadowing of the rest of Canaan. Heb. iv: 4-11. It was to them, as it is to us, a shadow of the rest in heaven. Heb. iv: 9. . . . When the Epistle to the Colossians says that Sabbaths, along with holy days and new-moons, are a shadow, it seems to us much the most simple explanation to say that it is the sacrificial aspect of those days, or (to employ other words) their use as special days of sacrifice, in which they together constituted a shadow. They were a shadow in this: that the sacrifices, which constituted so prominent a part of their Levitical observance, pointed to Christ the body. This is exactly accordant with the whole tenor of the Epistles.
The seventh day had been, then, to the Jews, both a moral institution and a ritual type. In its latter use, the coming of Christ had of course abrogated it. In its former use, its whole duties and obligations had lately been transferred to the Lord’s day. So that the seventh day, as distinguished from Sunday, along with the new-moons, was now nothing but a type, and that an effete one. In this aspect, the apostle might well argue that its observance then indicated a Judaizing tendency.
The great Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney has been mentioned a number of times on this site. It is a very telling indication of our times that such a visionary man is so little known, and usually slandered when mentioned at all. You can find the entire collection of his written works at the Dabney Archive, all of which are well worth reading. However, such a massive undertaking can be a bit overwhelming, and so on Sundays I have been posting bite-sized excerpts from Dabney’s works, with perhaps a little bit of my own commentary. This has been done in hopes of promoting wider readership for this great man. You can find links to all the previous “Dabney on Sunday” posts below.
Previous Dabney on Sundays:
Cruelty of Humanitarian Philanthropy
Preaching, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Doctrinal Confessions, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Divine Justice, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
The African Slave Trade
Women Preachers, Part 1, Part 2. Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Dangerous Literature, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
Spurious Religious Feelings, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
The Virginia Matron, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
The Sabbath’s Moral Perpetuity, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4