Afternoon Sermon: What Is Forbidden In The Fourth Commandment, And What Reasons Are Added? (Or, Beware Of The Errors Of Legalism And Antinomianism) Baptist Catechism 66 & 67, Acts 20:7-12

Baptist Catechism 66 & 67

Q. 66. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?

A. The fourth commandment forbids the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about worldly employments or recreations. (Ezekiel 22:26; 23:38; Jer. 17:21; Neh. 13:15,17; Acts 20:7)

Q. 67. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God’s allowing us six days of the week for our own lawful employments, His challenging a special propriety in a seventh, His own example and His blessing the Sabbath day. (Exodus 34:21; 31:16,17; Gen. 2:2,3)

Scripture Reading: Acts 20:7-12

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” (Acts 20:7–12, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.



As we consider the moral law of God as summarized in the Ten Commandments there are two errors that we have to be very careful to avoid. The first is the error of legalism. The second is the error of antinomianism. Both of these errors are very serious and they must be avoided. 

What is legalism? Well, it takes different forms. 

One, it is the false belief that sinful men and women can be made right with God through obedience to the law of God. The Scriptures are very clear that this is impossible for the simple reason that we are all lawbreakers. Apart from Christ, we stand guilty before God. No amount of law keeping will fix that problem. We need a Redeemer. His name is Jesus Christ. He kept God’s law in our place. He died in our place too, so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to the Father  

There is a second form of legalism that we must also be careful to avoid, and it is the elevation of human traditions and opinions to place of law along with the imposition of those traditions and opinions on others. If I choose to fast every Thursday and to make that a law for myself – if I do it, not to earn God’s favor, but from the heart and out of gratitude for all that God has done for me in Christ Jesus – that is not legalism. But if I begin to preach and to bind the consciences of others, saying, you must fast every Thursday, or you must not eat meat during this time of the year, or you must observe these holidays, etc, that is legalism, for the word of God has not commanded such things.  

A third form of legalism is really a subcategory of the second, and that is the false teaching that believers under the New Covenant are obliged to obey the civil and ceremonial laws that were given to Old Covenant Israel. Granted, these laws are biblical in the sense that they are found in the Bible, but they are not binding on us because we do not live under the Old Covenant of which they were a part. We live under the New Covenant, which is a different covenant. Yes, the Hebrews living under the Old Covenant were obligated to circumcise their male children, to offer sacrifices at the temple, honor many holy days and Sabbaths, etc. They were not legalists in striving to keep these laws, (provided that they weren’t trying to earn an eternal right standing with God through them instead of through faith in the promised Redeemer). No, they were right to obey these laws, for they were the product of man, but were given by God to them. But is anyone comes to you today and says, you are obligated to keep these civil and ceremonial laws given to Israel – to be circumcised, to abstain from certain foods, or to observe Old Covenant festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths (see Colossians 2:16), that person is a legalist. Though it is true that all of these laws were from God, it is also true that they are not for us, for we live under the New Covenant and not the Old. We have Christ as our High Priest, and not Aaron. And the scriptures are clear, “when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Hebrews 7:12, ESV).

Beware of legalism in all of its forms, brothers, and sisters.

What then is antinomianism? Well, it is the false teaching that says there is no law for the Christian. The prefix “anti” means “against”, and “nomos” means “law”. So then, antinomians teach. in one way or another, that there is no law for the Christian. As with legalism, antinomianism comes in different flavors. Some may teach that there is no objective law for the Christian, period. I suspect that most would say that there is a law, but it is the law of the Spirit, or the law of Christ, and that this law is different in substance from the law written on stones at Sinai. Both views are erroneous, and they leave the Christian without an objective moral standard. If I were to guess, I would say antinomianism is a bigger problem the church today (at least in our region) than legalism. It must be avoided. 

What then is our view concerning the law of God and its usefulness to the believer under the New Covenant? Chapter 19 of our confession actually states our position beautifully. I’d like to read this chapter to you. It will only take a moment and I think it will be helpful.  

Chapter 19: Of The Law Of God

Paragraph 1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

(Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10, 12)

Paragraph 2. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.

(Romans 2:14, 15; Deuteronomy 10:4)

Paragraph 3. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.

(Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:17; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Colossians 2:14, 16, 17; Ephesians 2:14, 16)

Paragraph 4. To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use.

(1 Corinthians 9:8-10)

Paragraph 5. The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

(Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8, 10-12; James 2:10, 11; Matthew 5:17-19; Romans 3:31)

Paragraph 6. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unalloyed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, for the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.

(Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:1; Romans 10:4; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7, etc; Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 3:8-13)

Paragraph 7. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.

(Galatians 3:21; Ezekiel 36:27)

There is a lot that could be said about chapter 19 of our confession. It is a very beautiful and helpful statement. And it is beautiful and helpful because it is true to the teaching of Holy Scripture. I hope you can see how it protects us from the errors of legalism and antinomianism. 

It protects us from legalism, one, by stating in para 6  that “true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned…”, two, by stating in para 3 that we are not bound to keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and three, by stating in para 4 that we are not bound to keep the civil or judicial laws either, for these have been fulfilled and taken away by the coming of Christ and the arrival of the New Covenant. For protection against the legalistic error of elevating the traditions and opinions of men to the place of law, we would have to go to chapter 21 of our Confession, entitled Of Christian Liberty And Liberty Of Conscience. That too is a very important and beautiful chapter in our confession of faith, which we do not have the time to read. 

Chapter 19 of our confession helps to guard us against the error of antinomianism in its teaching that the moral law of God was written on man’s heart in the beginning, on stone at Mount Sianai in Ten Commandments. And it is this law – the moral that is written on our hearts by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit (see Jeremiah 31:31ff). The law of the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2), and the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), are not different from the moral law in substance. But they are different from the Ten Commandments as it pertains to power. For in Christ and by the Spirit we are graciously enabled to keep God’s moral law from the heart. That is what 2LCF 19.7 teaches when it says,
Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”


Baptist Catechism 66 & 67

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with Baptist Catechism questions 66 and 67. Well, I believe I have said enough about what the fourth commandment requires and forbids in the previous two sermons. Here I wanted to take a moment to counter the criticism that we will certainly face from other Christians living in our place and time as we strive, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, to honor the Lord’s Day Sabbath and to keep it holy. What will some charge us with? Answer: legalism.

But is it legalistic to say that the Christain ought to obey God’s moral law? Is it legalistic to say that the Christian ought to worship God in the way he has prescribed, honoring one day in seven as holy unto him until the end of the world? Certainly not. 

Some who are anti-Sabbatiarians will say, well, the practice of Sabbath keeping belonged to the ceremonial laws of Old Covenant Israel and has been done away with. You are guilty of legalism for teaching that the Sabbath Day is to be kept under the New Covenant. 

This is not true. That Sabbath command was not given first to Israel through Moses, but to Adam. And when the Sabbath command was given to Isarel through Moses, it was given a special place in the Ten Commandments, wherein we find universal and unchanging laws. Are we charged with legalism when we say that God alone is to be worshiped, not with images, and with reverence for his name?  Are we charged with legalism when say, you shall honor your father and mother, do not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet? Are we guilty of legalism when we teach that Christians are to keep these laws by God’s and from a heart renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Of course not!  Then why do so many professing Christians in our day charge us with legalism when we teach that the fourth of these ten Commandments is to be kept too? I’m afraid that the antinomian error has had a devastating effect on the modern church.    

Some who are anti-Sabbatiarians will respond, saying, but the command to keep the Sabbath holy is not restated in the New Testament, therefore we are not bound to keep it. 

First of all, this is simply not true. But let us assume for a moment that it was true. What if the fourth commandment were not restated in the New Testament? Would this mean that we are not bound to keep it? I think not. The question I would ask in reply is this: who invented this rule that in order for something to be believed or obeyed by the New Covenant people of God, it must be restated in the New Testament? This is a false assumption. In fact, the New Testament is not written as a fresh start. It is written as a continuation and fulfillment of the Old. If something is to be done away with, you will need to demonstrate that it has been fulfilled or advanced somehow. And as I said in the previous sermon, the think of which the Sabbath is a sign, namely eternal rest in the presence of God, is not here yet in full. Christ has entered his rest. We rest in him in part. We will rest eternally when he returns to make all things new. Until then, the practice of Sabbath keeping remains for the people of God.  This idea that something must be said in the New Testament for it to be believed or obeyed is a byproduct of the dispensational error, I think. 

As I said, this claim that the Sabbath is not taught in the New Testament is not true. Christ kept the Old Covenant Sabbath. He also stripped away all of the legalistic gunk that the religious leaders has piled on it so as to demonstrate what true Sabbath-keeping looked like. And after his resurrection, he met with his disciples on the first day of the week to break bread. The early church did the same as recorded in Acts. Assembling for Christian worship on the first day of the week is not merely the tradition of man. It is the law of God properly understood. It is the Christian, New Covenant, Lord’s Day Sabbath. If it is only the tradition of man, then there is nothing at all binding us to worship on Sunday. In fact, there is nothing binding us to weekly worship either.

Some who are anti-Sabbatiarians will respond by saying, then why has the day changed? Answer: because while the pattern of one day in seven is moral ever since the creation of the world, the day itself is symbolic or ceremonial. In the previous sermon, I described how the seventh day Sabbath fit the Covenant of Works that God made with Adam in the garden (work will lead to rest). It was a reminder of the original creation which has been ruined by sin. The first day Sabbath fits the Covenant of Grace instituted by Christ  (rest in Christ leads to work). I a reminder of the original creation and of the new creation which Christ earned, inaugurated, and will consummate at his return. 



The fourth commandment remains, brothers and sisters. The day has changed. But the moral obligation to devote a proportion of time to the public and private worship God remains. The pattern established at creation was one and seven. While this world remains, that pattern will remain. From Adam through Christ the day was Saturday. From the resurrection of Christ to the end of the world, the day is Sunday. And this is why it is important for you to know that “the fourth commandment forbids the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about worldly employments or recreations.” 

Have you kept this law perfectly? No, we have violated this law in thought, word, and deed. Thanks be to God for the forgiveness that is in Christ Jesus, and for the gift of the Spirit, who enables us to freely do all that pleases the Lord through regeneration and sanctification.  

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