Sabbath & Lord’s Day in Early Church Thought 6

Our Hearts Are Restless Till They Find Rest in Thee

The scope of this study is too small to include a biography of Augustine (AD 354 – 430), the bishop of Hippo. Anyone who considers himself or herself a thinking Christian should at some time in life read Augustine’s Confessions. A major theme throughout the Confessions is rest. Augustine began his work with the subject of rest in God. When describing his sin, he repeated his assertion that what he was seeking, though seeking in the wrong place, was true rest, which could only be found in God. After lamenting the death of his friend, Augustine called transgressors to rest in God.

One could argue that the theme of rest in the Confessions is unrelated to the Sabbath; yet, Augustine concludes his work with an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. This allegory confuses some readers, who do not know its relation to the rest of the book. The seventh day of Genesis, the rest of God, ties the allegory to the rest of Augustine’s Confessions. The true Sabbath is not the rest one finds in a day, but the rest one finds in God alone.


1.1. …Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.81

2.6. …And sloth seems to long for rest; but what sure rest is there besides the Lord?82

2.10. Who can unravel that twisted and tangled knottiness? It is foul. I hate to reflect on it. I hate to look on it. But thee do I long for, O righteousness and innocency, fair and comely to all virtuous eyes, and of a satisfaction that never palls! With thee is perfect rest, and life unchanging. He who enters into thee enters into the joy of the Lord, and shall have no fear, and shall do excellently in the most Excellent.83

4.12. …Return to your heart, O ye transgressors, and cleave fast unto Him that made you. Stand with Him, and you shall stand fast. Rest in Him, and you shall be at rest.84

13.35. O Lord God, grant Thy peace unto us, for Thou hast supplied us with all things,—the peace of rest, the peace of the Sabbath, which hath no evening. For all this most beautiful order of things, “very good” (all their courses being finished), is to pass away, for in them there was morning and evening.

13.36. But the seventh day is without any evening, nor hath it any setting, because Thou hast sanctified it to an everlasting continuance that that which Thou didst after Thy works, which were very good, resting on the seventh day, although in unbroken rest Thou madest them that the voice of Thy Book may speak beforehand unto us, that we also after our works (therefore very good, because Thou hast given them unto us) may repose in Thee also in the Sabbath of eternal life.

13.37.For even then shalt Thou so rest in us, as now Thou dost work in us; and thus shall that be Thy rest through us, as these are Thy works through us. But Thou, O Lord, ever workest, and art ever at rest. Nor seest Thou in time, nor movest Thou in time, nor restest Thou in time; and yet Thou makest the scenes of time, and the times themselves, and the rest which results from time.

13.38We therefore see those things which Thou madest, because they are; but they are because Thou seest them. And we see without that they are, and within that they are good, but Thou didst see them there, when made, where Thou didst see them to be made. And we were at another time moved to do well, after our hearts had conceived of Thy Spirit; but in the former time, forsaking Thee, we were moved to do evil; but Thou, the One, the Good God, hast never ceased to do good. And we also have certain good works, of Thy gift, but not eternal; after these we hope to rest in Thy great hallowing. But Thou, being the Good, needing no good, art ever at rest, because Thou Thyself art Thy rest. And what man will teach man to understand this? Or what angel, an angel? Or what angel, a man? Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, even so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen.85

Augustine returned to the subject of the eternal Sabbath rest in City of God. Augustine began said work writing of the “final victory and perfect peace” of those who dwell eternally in God’s glorious city. 86 Augustin ended City of God, by describing the perfect peace, joy, and rest of the perpetual Sabbath, which is celebrated in the city.

City of God

22.30. How great shall be that felicity, which shall be tainted with no evil, which shall lack no good, and which shall afford leisure for the praises of God, who shall be all in all! For I know not what other employment there can be where no lassitude shall slacken activity, nor any want stimulate to labor. I am admonished also by the sacred song, in which I read or hear the words, “Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, O Lord; they will be still praising Thee.” All the members and organs of the incorruptible body, which now we see to be suited to various necessary uses, shall contribute to the praises of God; for in that life necessity shall have no place, but full, certain, secure, everlasting felicity. For all those parts of the bodily harmony, which are distributed through the whole body, within and without, and of which I have just been saying that they at present elude our observation, shall then be discerned; and, along with the other great and marvellous discoveries which shall then kindle rational minds in praise of the great Artificer, there shall be the enjoyment of a beauty which appeals to the reason. What power of movement such bodies shall possess, I have not the audacity rashly to define, as I have not the ability to conceive. Nevertheless I will say that in any case, both in motion and at rest, they shall be, as in their appearance, seemly; for into that state nothing which is unseemly shall be admitted. One thing is certain, the body shall forthwith be wherever the spirit wills, and the spirit shall will nothing which is unbecoming either to the spirit or to the body. True honor shall be there, for it shall be denied to none who is worthy, nor yielded to any unworthy; neither shall any unworthy person so much as sue for it, for none but the worthy shall be there. True peace shall be there, where no one shall suffer opposition either from himself or any other. God Himself, who is the Author of virtue, shall there be its reward; for, as there is nothing greater or better, He has promised Himself. What else was meant by His word through the prophet, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,” than, I shall be their satisfaction, I shall be all that men honorably desire,—life, and health, and nourishment, and plenty, and glory, and honor, and peace, and all good things? This, too, is the right interpretation of the saying of the apostle, “That God may be all in all.” He shall be the end of our desires who shall be seen without end, loved without cloy, praised without weariness. This outgoing of affection, this employment, shall certainly be, like eternal life itself, common to all.

The soul, then, shall have an intellectual remembrance of its past ills; but, so far as regards sensible experience, they shall be quite forgotten. For a skillful physician knows, indeed, professionally almost all diseases; but experimentally he is ignorant of a great number which he himself has never suffered from. As, therefore, there are two ways of knowing evil things,—one by mental insight, the other by sensible experience, for it is one thing to understand all vices by the wisdom of a cultivated mind, another to understand them by the foolishness of an abandoned life,—so also there are two ways of forgetting evils. For a well-instructed and learned man forgets them one way, and he who has experimentally suffered from them forgets them another,—the former by neglecting what he has learned, the latter by escaping what he has suffered. And in this latter way the saints shall forget their past ills, for they shall have so thoroughly escaped them all, that they shall be quite blotted out of their experience. But their intellectual knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted not only with their own past woes, but with the eternal sufferings of the lost. For if they were not to know that they had been miserable, how could they, as the Psalmist says, for ever sing the mercies of God? Certainly that city shall have no greater joy than the celebration of the grace of Christ, who redeemed us by His blood. There shall be accomplished the words of the psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God.” There shall be the great Sabbath which has no evening, which God celebrated among His first works, as it is written, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it He had rested from all His work which God began to make.” For we shall ourselves be the seventh day, when we shall be filled and replenished with God’s blessing and sanctification. There shall we be still, and know that He is God; that He is that which we ourselves aspired to be when we fell away from Him, and listened to the voice of the seducer, “Ye shall be as gods,” and so abandoned God, who would have made us as gods, not by deserting Him, but by participating in Him. For without Him what have we accomplished, save to perish in His anger? But when we are restored by Him, and perfected with greater grace, we shall have eternal leisure to see that He is God, for we shall be full of Him when He shall be all in all. For even our good works, when they are understood to be rather His than ours, are imputed to us that we may enjoy this Sabbath rest. For if we attribute them to ourselves, they shall be servile; for it is said of the Sabbath, “Ye shall do no servile work in it.” Wherefore also it is said by Ezekiel the prophet, “And I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctify them.” This knowledge shall be perfected when we shall be perfectly at rest, and shall perfectly know that He is God.

This Sabbath shall appear still more clearly if we count the ages as days, in accordance with the periods of time defined in Scripture, for that period will be found to be the seventh. The first age, as the first day, extends from Adam to the deluge; the second from the deluge to Abraham, equalling the first, not in length of time, but in the number of generations, there being ten in each. From Abraham to the advent of Christ there are, as the evangelist Matthew calculates, three periods, in each of which are fourteen generations,—one period from Abraham to David, a second from David to the captivity, a third from the captivity to the birth of Christ in the flesh. There are thus five ages in all. The sixth is now passing, and cannot be measured by any number of generations, as it has been said, “It is not for you to know the times, which the Father hath put in His own power.” After this period God shall rest as on the seventh day, when He shall give us (who shall be the seventh day) rest in Himself. But there is not now space to treat of these ages; suffice it to say that the seventh shall be our Sabbath, which shall be brought to a close, not by an evening, but by the Lord’s day, as an eighth and eternal day, consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, and prefiguring the eternal repose not only of the spirit, but also of the body. There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the kingdom of which there is no end?

I think I have now, by God’s help, discharged my obligation in writing this large work. Let those who think I have said too little, or those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough join me in giving thanks to God. Amen.87

Augustine used this theme of rest in God, this theme of God’s people being the Sabbath as they rest in Him, in many of his writings. 88 Let those who say I have written too little examine the footnotes in which I have included references to some of Augustine’s other writings on the Sabbath. Let those who say I have said too much forgive me for lengthy quotes and explanations. Let those who say I have said just enough take their rest in Christ, who alone gives true rest, and joy, and peace to the weary soul.

How Did the Early Church Answer the Questions?

1. What is the day of the Sabbath?
The answer depends on whether one is asking of the Sabbath under the New or Old Covenant. The Church Fathers defined the Old Covenant’s Sabbath as being the seventh day of the week. The eternal Sabbath, ushered in by the New Covenant, is not bound to a particular day, but exists in perpetuity for the believer. It is at times referred to as the seventh age.

2. Is the Lord’s Day the same or a different day than the Sabbath?
Again, the Church made a distinction. The temporal Lord’s Day is the first day of the week (also called the eighth day). An eighth age, or Lord’s Day to come, is also mentioned.

3. Is any one day more holy than any other day?
The book of Acts, and the Teaching of the Apostles both describe Christians as meeting daily; however, Christians gave importance to both Saturday and Sunday with highest honor going to Sunday as the day of Christ’s resurrection.

4. Is the command to rest from work permanent and eternal, or temporary and proleptic?
The Early Church considered the command to be temporary and proleptic. Obedience to the temporal command within the New Covenant era was Judaizing worthy of anathema.

5. If it is temporary and proleptic, to what does the Sabbath point?
The Sabbath pointed to the eternal rest believers have in Christ.

6. Is the Sabbath rest a cessation of all works or some works?
The Sabbath command forbade some works.

7. If some works, what is permissible and prohibited?
Under the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath command forbade servile and secular works. Priestly and godly works were not under the ban; therefore, Jesus was without sin when He did his good works on the Sabbath.

Were They Right?

Whether you believe the Early Church writers were right or wrong on the Sabbath and Lord’s Day depends on your view of the role of the Old Covenant Law in the New Covenant era. If you believe that the entirety of the Mosaic Law is binding on Christians, then the Early Church was wrong. If you believe that the law of the New Covenant is a second dispensation of the Old Covenant Law without the sacrificial ordinances, then you will believe the Early Church was wrong. If you believe that the New Covenant brought with it a new law of grace, laying aside the old Law, then you will accept what the Early Church taught as true. No matter how much Bible study we do on this issue, our theological predispositions will effect our exegesis and hermeneutics. I realize that this answer will not satisfy many readers; however, if I had concluded this study with an in depth Bible study, many would still not be satisfied, because I did not arrive at their position. Thus, I leave the question for the reader to answer.


81. Augustine, Confessions, 1.1, NPNF 1st, vol. 1, 45
82. Ibid., 2.6, 58
83. Ibid., 2.1, 59
84. Ibid., 4.12, 74
85. Ibid., 13.35-38, 207
86. __________, City of God, 1.1, NPNF 1st, vol. 2, 1
87. Ibid., 22.30, 510-511
88. For an occasional letter dealing with the Sabbath and Lord’s Day, particularly during Holy Week, look at Letter LV in NPNF 1st, vol. 1, pp. 308-312. For an apologetic against the Manichaean claim that Christians were inconsistent in faith and practice for their rejection of the Sabbath command, see Reply to Faustus the Manichaean in NPNF 1st, vol. 4, pp. 167-169, 230-232, 237-238. In said work, Augustine did not deny that Christians reject the Sabbath command. Rather, he gave good reason for forsaking the Sabbath command in favor of resting in Christ.

About haroyce

Royce is an aspiring writer of fantasy, history, philosophy, and theology. He earned his BS in History from Cedarville College, and his MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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