Review: The Sabbath As Rest And Hope For The People Of God By Guy Prentiss Waters

Of the Ten Commandments, I am not sure there is one more ignored, or at least more misunderstood, than, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod 20:8). The issue is not simply that it is disobeyed, but that it seems not even to cross the minds of many American evangelicals. In the cases that it does, it is often met with confusion or treated as the only command of the Decalogue to be functionally abrogated in Christ. This is accepted based on passages like Matthew 12:8, wherein Christ calls himself “the Lord of the Sabbath,” and Hebrews 4, which calls believers to enter the rest that God has given us through the finished work of Christ.

Neither of these passages, of course, necessitates the removal of a day of rest; instead, they set up Christ’s person and work as the eternal and eschatological rest to which a designated day of rest points. Within even the Reformed tradition, which emphasizes that God “appointed one day in seven” (Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF] 21.7), that it should be “kept holy unto [God]” (WCF 21.7), and that there are ways God has given for us to keep that day holy unto him (WCF 21.8), it takes little effort to uncover a great deal of neglect and misunderstandings of God’s good command. What is meant to be a declaration from God that we are not slaves to our employers, social pressures, or even our self-imposed expectations, is often viewed as a burdensome interruption to the productivity of our week.

It is over this cacophonous background of misunderstandings and misinformation that Dr. Guy Waters’ voice rises to proclaim with clarity and grace that God’s command is not intended to be a burden—rather, it directs us to more fully enjoy Christ. The Sabbath as Rest and Hope for the People of God might be brief, but there are no wasted pages. From the moment the reader opens the book to the moment they read its final words, Dr. Waters outlines a beautiful and compelling biblical-theological study of the Sabbath.

The Strengths

Immediately, keen readers will notice Dr. Waters has done an excellent job of structuring his work. Beginning with Sabbath in creation, he moves to the Law, the Prophets, the Sabbath’s relation to Christ, its place in the new creation, and he finally brings it together in a chapter on how to put it into practice. Following this pattern gives readers an easy-to-follow roadmap for where they are and where they can expect to go. While these subjects often overlap, Dr. Waters skillfully keeps the lines between the chapters clear, allowing readers with little experience in biblical-theological studies to follow along.

While the structure is a great help to anyone, and especially for a layperson or a new student, the resources Dr. Waters cites are excellent tools for those looking to do a deeper study. By the fifth page of the first chapter, he has already introduced his readers to G. K. Beale, Michael Morales, and John Murray (17–19). Further, the research and commentary in his footnotes is often as engaging as the main body of the text. They are not simply included to appease the author’s desire to address his pet interests; they provide substantive research and argumentation which further the goal of the book. I found myself eager to read each one, which, as you might expect, is not something I often say about footnotes.

The care with which he selected and cited his sources is evident throughout the body of the text as well. Dr. Waters treats his subject with tremendous focus. One does not find the occasional throwaway line to take up space or the odd excursus into merely tangential territory. Every trail down which Waters leads his readers ultimately finds its way soundly into the heart of the question of the Sabbath and its place in redemptive history. At the very beginning of his introduction, Dr. Waters states, “This book is not a plea to state and federal legislators to put blue laws back on the books. It is, rather, an exploration of what the Bible says to all human beings about the Sabbath” (11). Waters never loses sight of this goal, and he does not let his readers do so either.

Focus, however, only goes so far without clarity. Thankfully, this work is full of that as well. Even in the rare case of a potentially hard-to-follow argument (more on that later), Dr. Waters provides a conclusion with such a well-written overview that a reader can easily make up for what he or she might have missed along the way. This clarity is especially helpful in his exegesis. Waters capably handles passages which might seem difficult or, in some cases, in opposition to his argument. For example, in his chapter on the Sabbath as it relates to the new creation, he deals with the objection that Paul often tells his readers not to regard particular days as intrinsically more important than others (125–127). Here, he engages both pastorally and academically with all the relevant texts across Paul’s letters, showing that the matter at hand was never the Lord’s Day, but instead “the feasts and festivals of the Mosaic Calendar” (127). His clear thought and careful treatment of biblical texts will benefit both laypeople who read this volume and pastors who hope to use it in their study and preparation.

The Weaknesses (?)

At the risk of proving myself a poor reviewer, I must admit I had trouble finding anything I might consider a true weakness in the book. Its strengths are so apparent that I easily could have spent the entire review lauding it for what it does well without spilling any metaphorical ink on possible areas of improvement. Further, to suggest that I might have valuable insights regarding a work of Guy Waters on a subject related to ecclesiology (the matter of the Sabbath is, of course, inextricably linked to worship and the church), quite frankly, seems ridiculous on its face. Still, it is my responsibility to find weaknesses to address; thus, I must ask your forgiveness as I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find meaningful critiques.

There is at least one notable occasion when Waters relies on a previous work to define the terms for this one. In his introduction, he points readers back to his volume on the Lord’s Supper for what he means when he says he is “undertaking a biblical theology of the Sabbath” (12). Presumably, most readers would have an idea of what is meant by the term biblical theology since they intentionally picked up a book about it; and even if they do not, the series preface does address the definition. As many authors take slightly different approaches to biblical-theological studies however, a quick inclusion of Waters’ own approach in his introduction would have been helpful, especially for people who do not engage in much theological reading.

The only other critique I can offer is that there are moments when Waters offers arguments and exegesis that although sound and clear, are yet complex enough that they would likely give the average layperson pause. Significantly, toward the end of his chapter on the Sabbath in creation, he addresses 1 Corinthians 15, which he openly notes never explicitly mentions the Sabbath. From there, he moves into what some might consider complicated exegetical work in Hebrews 4 (28–31). While his conclusion does helpfully distill his point (31), such complexity at the beginning of the book might lead some readers to put it down before they have had the chance to truly follow the arguments that Dr. Waters makes. It is hard to fault an author and professor for displaying mastery of his subject, but for a reader to walk away from this outstanding work without finishing it because they believe it is inaccessible to them would be an inestimable loss.

The Verdict

I suspect it is clear by now that I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It provides a needed corrective to the ills which plague the American evangelical approaches to the Sabbath. Clear, concise, pastoral, academic, accessible, and reverent, The Sabbath as Rest and Hope for the People of God is a book that, as a pastor, I will keep on hand to give away. The Presbyterian and Reformed world owes Dr. Waters a debt of gratitude for this volume which I have every expectation will continue to be a valuable resource in our churches for many years.

Guy Prentiss Waters, The Sabbath As Rest And Hope For The People Of God, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022).

© Nathan White. All Rights Reserved.


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  • Nathan White
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    Nathan grew up in Decatur, Alabama and began serving Decatur Presbyterian in January of 2017 as the pastoral intern. He eventually became the Youth Ministry Director and then Assistant Pastor, serving there until September of 2023 when he began planting Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Madison, Alabama. Nathan grew up in church, believing the gospel from an early age, and is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary. He married his wife Rachael in March of 2016 and they have one daughter, Alice, born in October of 2021.

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One comment

    I should have honored the SABBATH long ago.
    I was always told it’s not that big of deal and Xtians don’t need to. oh ok.
    After reading Sinclair Fergusons book (In Christ Alone) I have really tried to honor the Sabbath.
    Seeing this book by Waters really piqued my interest – Buy it and learn and do it better.
    So will look forward to another great book by Waters.
    Thanks for encouraging review. IT made my day


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