Are There Two Distinct Reformed Views Of The Sabbath?

Does The Continental View Really Exist?

Recovering the Reformed Confession-FeaturedOn Twitter Anthony Bradley pointed us to a webpage by Ra McLaughlin on the Sabbath. There is good material there but there are also a couple of items that warrant discussion. The one on which I want to focus in this post is the use of the expression “the continental tradition” with respect to the Sabbath. As reflected on this page, it is widely held that there are two distinct Reformed views of the Sabbath, the British or Westminster Standards position and “the Continental view.” It is sometimes argued that the so-called “Continental View” was Calvin’s. Thence people point to the relative brevity of Heidelberg Catechism on the Sabbath and finally one will likely read something about Cocceius on the Sabbath. The implication is usually that the so-called “Continental View” is less rigorous than the British view.

This way of speaking would be a surprise to the Continental Reformed tradition. Let’s define our terms. The adjective “continental” is a little slippery. It’s not always clear what is meant by it. Sometimes it refers to the Dutch Reformed churches. It might include the Germans, the French, and perhaps Geneva. Often, judging by usage, it seems to mean, “Reformed folk who don’t speak English” and are European. The unstated assumption behind this way of writing and speaking is that there were (and are) two distinct traditions, the European (mainly Dutch) and the British (and American). Such ways of speaking and thinking would have been foreign to the classical Reformed writers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Yes, they spoke their own vernacular languages but they all wrote and spoke Latin. They were quite conscious of belonging to single Reformed tradition. The British Reformed (Scots, English, Welsh, Irish) were reading the Dutch, German, French, and Swiss Reformed and vice versa. There was no consciousness in the classical period of a distinctly “British” or “Continental” view of anything. There was simply an international Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

Let’s consider four cases. I made this case at length in RRC so I won’t belabor (on Labor Day) here but much of what has been written about Calvin’s allegedly “continental” view of the Sabbath is simply not well grounded in the sources. What typically happens is that writers appeal to a passage or two from the 1559 Institutes and then call it a day. This way of reading Calvin is deeply flawed. The only way to understand Calvin properly is to read him the way he intended to be read. One must start with his biblical commentary, then go to a treatise (the Institutes or some other), and then to go to his sermons. When one reads Calvin holistically, in context, his view of the Sabbath is quite difficult to distinguish from what is alleged to be a distinctly (and harshly) British view.

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) did speak to the Sabbath:

103. What does God require in the fourth Commandment?


In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained, and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church, to learn the Word of God, to use the Holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms. In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest form my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.

Ursinus’ lecture on the Christian Sabbath were translated into English and available to students at Oxford University by 1587, where his lectures on the catechism were a part of the curriculum. In his explanation on this question Ursinus observed,

That the first part is moral and perpetual, is evident from the end and the causes of the commandment, which are perpetual in their character. The end or design of the commandment is the maintenance of the public worship of God in the church; or the perpetual preservation, and use of the ecclesiastical ministry.

He wrote that the second part of the commandment is distinctly Mosaic, ceremonial, and temporary. He distinguished between the Israelite “sabbaths” and “the Sabbath.” The Sabbath itself was grounded in creation. It is part of the abiding moral law of God. He distinguished between servile works, i.e., those that hinder worship.

Third, though we mainly think about the Synod of Dort (1618–19) in regard to the doctrine of salvation, the Reformed Churches actually met there to discuss more than responding to the Remonstrants (Arminians). They discussed the life of the church and they formulated a position on the Sabbath that is not clearly distinct from what was held by most British Reformed congregations and confessions. The Synod distinguished between that which is perpetual or creational and that which was temporary or Mosaic in the Sabbath. The intent, however, of these rules (canons) on the Sabbath, adopted in May, 1619, was to make clear that the Sabbath is not abrogated along with the old, Mosaic covenant.F

Fourth, it is frequently asserted or implied that Johannes Cocceius (1603–69) corrupted the Reformed consensus on the Sabbath. E.g., the Theopedia entry claims, “In one of his essays he contends that the observance of the Sabbath, though expedient, is not binding upon Christians, since it was a Jewish institution.” The picture in the original texts, however, is more complicated. In §21 and §338 of the Summa de foedere he recognized that the Sabbath was a creational institution. He taught that it had perpetual validity. He recognized that the Mosaic Sabbath legislation was “moral in nature” while acknowledging that the punishments attached to it, under Moses, were temporary and that there were other temporary aspects to the Mosaic legislation. He also observed the eschatological (i.e., the heavenward looking) aspect of the Sabbath. His doctrine of the progressive abrogation of the covenant of works caused him to argue that the Decalogue was not a covenant of works. He was adamant that the covenant of grace was administered through the Mosaic legislation. These sections of the Summa are difficult but it seems clear that he taught that though the Jewish Sabbath a type and shadow of the future Sabbath rest that would be given in the new covenant, “nevertheless,” he wrote, “it remains true that the [Sabbath-rest] of the New Testament must be observed together with its sanctification. In every possible way the New Testament’s Sabbath rest can be considered and practiced and maintained.

There were Cocceians who, because of the heated polemical context of the fight with the Voetians, took stronger, less conservative views of the Sabbath, I’m not confident that we can read those views back into Cocceius, just as we cannot read the adoption by some Cocceians, of a the Cartesian epistemology, back into Cocceius himself.

Yes there is some diversity within classical Reformed theology on the Sabbath but it is diversity within unity. There is a Reformed view of the Sabbath. There is a fundamental unity that God has established a 1 in 7 pattern in creation. To that creational law was added typological and temporary Mosaic legislation but the Sabbath was not grounded in the Mosaic law and covenant but in creation, i.e., in the nature of things. The Sabbath principle, then, remained in force in the New Covenant. The day was transformed from the last day to the first by the bodily resurrection of the Son of God and the inauguration of the new creation but the Sabbath principle and practice remained.

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  1. Is there a historical explanation to the wording of “recreation” by which some pastors, example PCA, express exemption from the WCF?

  2. “If the Jews cry out that what is perpetual, and what is temporary, are contraries to each other, we must deny it in various respects, since assuredly what was peculiar to the Law could not continue to exist beyond the day of Jesus Christ. Besides, the Sabbath, although its external observation is not now in use, still remains eternal in its reality, like circumcision. Thus the stability of both was best confirmed by their abrogation; since, if God now required the same of Christians, it would be putting a veil over the death and resurrection of His Son; and hence the more carefully the Jews persevere in the keeping the festival, the more do they derogate from its sanctity. But they calumniate us falsely, as if we disregarded the Sabbath; because there is nothing which more completely confirms its reality and substance than the abolition of its external use.” Calvin, from his commentary on Exodus 31:12-17.

    I think you’re really glossing over the very real differences. Calvin absolutely rejected any recognition of any day as religiously any different than any other, of itself. He says the Sabbath is ceremonial, and abrogated, over and over.

    • Matt,

      Aren’t you doing EXACTLY what I warned against? What I’m not going to do is write out the chapter in RRC where I demonstrate that reading of Calvin doesn’t hold up. Read the chapter.

      Ask yourself some questions:

      1. Against whom was Calvin writing? What question was he answering?
      2. What was his context? What were his concerns in this particular passage? Be sure to distinguish his context from ours.
      3. Which Sabbath was he describing as temporary?
      4. What else did he say about the Sabbath elsewhere?
      5. Context, context, context.

  3. Dr. Clark,
    That’s just a sample. I don’t have your book. But I’ve read Calvin extensively on this subject, and he’s pretty uniform in his assertions against the perpetuity of the Sabbath- whether in commentaries or in the Institutes.

    “Paul informs us that Christians are not to be judged in respect of its [the Sabbath’s] observance, because it is a shadow of something to come (Col. 2:16); and, accordingly, he expresses a fear lest his labour among the Galatians should prove in vain, because they still observed days (Gal. 4:10, 11). And he tells the Romans that it is superstitious to make one day differ from another (Rom. 14:5).”

    I can keep doing this for a while. I know that the Reformed tradition later mostly rejected Calvin’s teaching on this, but it’s really not true to claim him as a Sabbatarian. He believed strongly in the importance of corporate worship and often inveighs against letting worldly pursuits distract from the worship of God, but he absolutely never asserts that the Sabbath continues to be in force.

    In answer to your questions:

    A: there, against the Jews who contend that the Sabbath must be perpetual.
    B: His concerns are to explain the meaning of the Fourth Commandment, and its continuing relevance for us today.
    C: He was talking about the normal one-in-seven observance.
    D: The same thing.

    • Matt,

      I’m well aware of these passages and many others.

      I don’t think that you’re accounting properly for his context. He didn’t write in a vacuum. Think a bit. From what was the Protestant church emerging? To what had it been subjected particularly for the previous 300 years? Because you’re skipping his context you’re also missing his intent and target. He wasn’t reacting to the perceived legalism of some Sunday Sabbatarians. He had a different context and was asking/answering a different set of questions.

      More primary sources: How did the consistory and the company of pastors legislate re the Sabbath in Geneva during Calvin’s tenures?

      Take a look at the chapter. You can get the book for Kindle via Amazon for $9.00 or for FREE through virtually any local library via Inter-Library Loan.

  4. Here he is on Galatians 4:10-

    “10. Ye observe days. He adduces as an instance one description of “elements,” the observance of days. No condemnation is here given to the observance of dates in the arrangements of civil society. The order of nature out of which this arises, is fixed and constant. How are months and years computed, but by the revolution of the sun and moon? What distinguishes summer from winter, or spring from harvest, but the appointment of God, — an appointment which was promised to continue to the end of the world? (Genesis 8:22.) The civil observation of days contributes not only to agriculture and to matters of politics, and ordinary life, but is even extended to the government of the church. Of what nature, then, was the observation which Paul reproves? It was that which would bind the conscience, by religious considerations, as if it were necessary to the worship of God, and which, as he expresses it in the Epistle to the Romans, would make a distinction between one day and another. (Romans 14:5.)
    When certain days are represented as holy in themselves, when one day is distinguished from another on religious grounds, when holy days are reckoned a part of divine worship, then days are improperly observed. The Jewish Sabbath, new moons, and other festivals, were earnestly pressed by the false apostles, because they had been appointed by the law. When we, in the present age, intake a distinction of days, we do not represent them as necessary, and thus lay a snare for the conscience; we do not reckon one day to be more holy than another; we do not make days to be the same thing with religion and the worship of God; but merely attend to the preservation of order and harmony. The observance of days among us is a free service, and void of all superstition.”

    • Comment away but don’t assume that these are bombshells. You’ve given a good example, however, of the sort of hermeneutic that I was mentioning briefly in the post. Reading Calvin well is harder than it looks but because he’s so famous and has become, since the early 20th century, so important to our identity (he’s become “our guy” even though he didn’t really have that position until relatively recently) everyone thinks that they know what he thought and was trying to say, even if they don’t have really know what his context was.

  5. In the interest of balance… As it pertains more precisely to the question of Calvin’s views on the propriety of Christian observance of the fourth commandment, hear his exhortation:

    “Now from the foregoing we see what attitude68 we hold all Christianity and the service of God. For what was given to us in order to help us approach God, we use as an occasion for alienating ourselves from him even more. And as a result we are led astray. We must recover it all. Is not such a diabolical malice in men?

    “Would to God that we had to look hard for examples and that they were more rare. But as everything is profaned, we see that the majority hardly care about the usage of this day which has been instituted in order that we might withdraw from all earthly anxieties, from all business affairs, to the end that we might surrender everything to God.

    “Moreover, let us realize that it is not only for coming to the sermon that the day of Sunday is instituted, but that in order that we might devote all the rest of the time to praising God. Indeed! For although he nurtures us every day, nevertheless we do not sufficiently meditate on the favors he bestows on us in order to magnify them….

    “But when Sunday is spent not only in pastimes full of vanity, but in things which are entirely contrary to God, it seems that one has not at all celebrated Sunday [and] that God has been offended in many ways. Thus when people profane in the manner the holy order69 which God instituted to lead us to himself, why should they be astonished if all the rest of the week is degraded?”

    From “The Fifth Sermon”, which, along with “The Sixth Sermon”, address the 4th commandment.

    Found in Benjamin W. Farley, transl., John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments (Baker, 1980; paperback reprint 2000)

    hmmm… Calvin sounds positively “Westminsterian” in places.

  6. Dr. Nigel Lee has put together some extensive work on this issue, and he sides with Scott here

    Scott, a couple questions.

    1. I always assumed inconsistency on the part of Calvin on this issue. I cannot harmonize his words in the Institutes with some of his sermons on the 4th commandment. Is that a possible conclusion in your thinking?

    2. I have read the records of the Consistory of Calvin’s session in Geneva and I don’t remember (it was a number of years ago) reading any admonishments about the Sabbath beyond listening to the sermons. Were there more specific admonishments about the Sabbath Day?


    • Hi Todd,

      I explain more in the book but no, if we read Calvin in his context then there isn’t a necessary tension. As I mentioned to Matt, this requires some digging into the 16th-century context.

      There was Sabbath legislation in Geneva.

  7. Im siding with Matt on this one. Isa 58:13 is definitely not contextually creational. If there was a one in seven priority Rom 14 would never have been uttered by Paul if he held to the Westminsterian Sabbath.

    • Michial,

      What are you saying? Explain please.

      What are you assuming?

      The question here is historical, not dogmatic-theological. The question of the post is: was there a distinct continental view of the Sabbath? I say no or at least not nearly so clearly as many seem to assume. ]

      You seem to be making a theological point.

      To that I say, read Ursinus on Q. 103. Did you read the Rules/Canons of Synod of Dort linked in the article?

      Do you assume that Isa 58 is the beginning and end of the biblical revelation re the Sabbath?

      Have you read the chapter in RRC?

  8. Scott,

    I am aware of Sabbath legislation. But my question concerned enforcement. Was their any enforcement by the session concerning the Sabbath?

    • Whatever Calvin’s specific views on the Sabbath- I’m not saying one way or the other but if I remember RRC correctly I was quite persuaded he was a Sabbatarian- the tradition most certainly is Sabbarian. Our standards are Sabbatarian and that is what matters.

      So, having established that we must ask: how do we observe the Sabbath? And I think here there is a difference. Here in Scotland, following the historic Scottish observance, we do not use public transport, go to the shops, watch tv, listen to the radio, use the phone, the Internet, go for unnecessary walks &c. Certainly this is the most conservative expression, and most churches would not enforce that but it is the historic practice and some of us still observe it.

      Now, from what I’ve read most of you guys, it seems, would be ok with all of those things (so long as they were not done instead of attending the means of grace). And it does seem to be in the Continental churches (or those heavily influenced by them, e.g. OPC) which follow this liberal approach.

      Surely, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we believe in a Sabbath if our observance of it doesn’t really differ from the rest of the week. In that case we’re just the same as the Baptists.

  9. The Institutes were written and revised over the course of decades. There he speaks clearly. I’m familiar with the context of the sixteenth century, and context can’t make someone mean the opposite of what they say. It is superstition to regard one day as different from another, Calvin says, utterly without qualification.

    In Institutes 2.8.33-34 Calvin specifically is referring to the Lord’s Day, and to the charge by some that by keeping the Lord’s Day the people are “trained in Judaism”. There he asserts that they don’t keep it minutely and do not judge one another in its observance, and it’s merely for good order that they observe a day at all. In that paragraph he calls it a “Jewish idea” that it was still mandatory to observe one day out of seven. He specifically says, speaking of one day in seven observance, that Paul says we are not to be judged in respect of its observance (in Romans 14:5). And in that paragraph (speaking of one day in seven observance, not “feast days” or whatever), he refers to Colossians 2:16, Galatians 4:10 and Romans 14:5, referring all of them to the question of one day in seven observance.

    So the context is clear. He’s interpreting the Fourth Commandment. He’s talking about how observing the Lord’s Day is a matter of good order, not religious requirement. He’s answering those who say that continuing to observe the Lord’s Day is Jewish. He calls one-in-seven observance as a continuing requirement a “Jewish idea”.

    This just echoes what he says in a lot of other places. And having preached a lot myself, I’d much rather my position be judged based on written statements I’ve made repeatedly than things I said in a sermon once or twice.

    I could have more respect for this argument if you said that Calvin’s teaching was unclear or inconsistent (I still wouldn’t agree, but it would be at least defensible). But to claim him for Westminster Sabbatarianism is really, really bad.

    • (aaaand, nevermind what he preached on the 4th commandment…)

      Deal with it all. Including the sermons to his own congregation. Did you read the part about divine institution? About devoting the whole day?

      Get it? Context=audience(s), purpose(s), background(s), his whole oeuvre.

      I certainly wouldn’t say Calvin’s inconsistent. But you’re the one making him sound that way, since you’re the party cherry-picking from only portions of his corpus.

      • Ding, ding, ding! Winner!

        In my view, this debate is not really about what Calvin said as much as it is about hermeneutics. How are we going to read texts? I still think that we need to read texts in their original context, according to their original/authorial intent. In order to understand Paul’s letters we need to know his setting, the original audience and their setting. It’s the same when interpreting post-canonical texts. We cannot de-contextualize them and then re-contextualize them to make texts/passages to say what we need them to say in our context.

  10. Also, I’m sure you’re aware of the Second Helvetic, from chapter XXIV:
    SUPERSTITION. In this connection we do not yield to the Jewish observance and to superstitions. For we do not believe that one day is any holier than another, or think that rest in itself is acceptable to God. Moreover, we celebrate the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath as a free observance.

    There was a variety of views on the Sabbath.

    • Matt,

      I’ll try again. In what concrete, historical context was Bullinger writing? I’m not asking what theological context. This isn’t just about de-contextualized ideas or even the history of ideas. In order to understand his language properly you must know the social and cultural history. That’s the part you’re ignoring.

  11. people point to the relative brevity of Heidelberg Catechism on the Sabbath

    Frame hit the nail on the head (you won’t hear me saying that very often!) when he noted in Doctrine of Christian Life (I think), the irony that Presbyterians, with all their confessional content covering the Sabbath, are relatively lax in observance, while the Continental Reformed, with their tiny (and thus necessarily less exhaustive) coverage are more observant.

    I think the reason is obvious however, and it’s not to do with size, but content. Westminster heaps up mountains of law to do with the Sabbath; there is really nothing to do with rest at all, but everything to do with replacing earthly work with Sabbath work; while HC 103 is simple, beautiful, gospel-focused and eschaton-focused.

    As ever, it is not the law, but the gospel which promotes thankful observance.

    Here’s a whole audio debate on the topic.

    • Rube,

      I really don’t think it’s a matter of heaps of law versus less law. The difference between the WCF and the HC is pedagogical rather than substantial. The difference is also contextual (there’s that word again). The WCF was written in the midst of the English Civil War and the divines felt greatly threatened theologically and practically by antinomianism and so they reacted by nailing down all the loose ends.

      E.g., they said what they said about recreation not because they were kill joys but against the a political background, against the King’s Book of Sports. Remember that the assembly was called by Parliament and worked for Parliament. They were fulfilling a civil as well as theological function.

      Some of that is true of the committee that revised and presented the HC to Frederick but the situation was rather different. It was 80 years earlier. There was not 8 decades of resistance, practical issues, pastoral problems and no civil war with viral antinomianism to address.

      The reason that the Dutch Reformed have been better on the Sabbath has more to do with the way they have historically related to their confession. The American Presbyterians abandoned quia (because it’s biblical) subscription for quatenus (to the degree it’s biblical) very early on and so the discussion has largely been about the degree to which one can disagree with the confession and remain within its bounds. That was never going to be a recipe for Sabbath observance. When the culture began pushing back in light of Modernism and now, in a context of radical subjectivism (late modernism) a quatenus approach (of which, in my view, “strict subscription” and “good faith” are just boundaries or subsets) is ill-suited.

      If our goal is to be an inclusive “national” church (e.g., Charles Hodge) then the church is to a significant degree an expression of the culture. If our goal is first of all to be faithful, that is a different orientation altogether. On the Hodge model, Sabbath observance is bound to suffer.

    • Regardless of context etc. there is no denying that there is a difference in content between Westminster and 3F (aka HC103) on the Sabbath. In addition to our Sundays in this age, HC points us to the eschaton and the other six days of the week, while Westminster is completely ignorant (or at best silent) on this.

    • Rube,
      I’d say you were missing WLC 121
      Q: Why is the word “remember” set in the beginning of the fourth commandment?

      Answer: The word “remember” is set in the beginning of the fourth commandment, partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and, in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion;

      and partly, because we are very ready to forget it, for that there is less light of nature for it, and yet it restrains our natural liberty in things at other times lawful; that it comes but once in seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it; and that Satan with his instruments much labor to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety.

      We don’t get a mention there of the eschaton (verbatim). However, the twin notions of sanctification and blessing cannot be properly conceived apart from the single, eschatological goal for both (for which see Q.s 1 & 117, comparing terms like “forever” and “worldly”).

  12. “However, the twin notions of sanctification and blessing cannot be properly conceived apart from the single, eschatological goal for both”

    I would agree, and would rephrase “The Sabbath cannot be properly conceived apart from the eschatological goal”, which is why this reinforces how Westminster falls short.

    Besides, WLC 121 is also guilty of confining the Sabbath to “once in seven days”.

    See also this post, which notes that SC almost mentions the eternal Sabbath, but comparison to WCF and LC indicates SC59 is really just a victim of unfortunate punctuation.

  13. Dr. Clark, in Institutes 2.8.33, do you believe that Calvin is applying Romans 14:5, Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10 to our understanding of the nature of the observance of the Lord’s Day?

  14. I think another point of history to remember is the Marian Exile. Many great English reformers studied under Calvin in Geneva during this period and brought back great reformed foundations with them. The Westminster Standards have some root in this, even though it was written decades later.

    I really like the point made about the difference of how we subscribe to the confessions. Though I belong to PCA, I think I would very much prefer the URC’s way of subscription.


  15. I’m just not getting how the context of the sixteenth century changes the fact that in Institutes 2.8.33, Calvin references Romans 14:5, Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 to our understanding of the observance of the weekly Lord’s day, when Sabbatarians always assure us that those passages only apply to the Jewish festivals other than the Sabbath, and yet Calvin is still supposed to be a Westminster Sabbatarian.

    • Matt,

      I take your comment to mean, in effect, “I don’t really care about the original context, intent, author, reader, or background.”

      That strikes me as an odd way to read any historical text.

    • I think rather, that the specifics of this context have not been presented here, he has not read RRC yet, and cannot imagine what kind of context would blunt the force of what he’s seeing in Calvin.

      I have the book, and have even read it, but I don’t remember what it had to say about Calvin’s context, so I also can’t imagine. I hope to double-check sometime soon.

      • It is illustrative of the state of the Reformed world today that in reaction to a post about whether there is such a thing as the “continental view” of the Sabbath (a claim which would have shocked everyone normally included in the so-called “continental view”) that the discussion in the comments has turned on the interpretation of Calvin as if, once we have determined that, we have determined “the Reformed view.”

        No one has mentioned the clear teaching of the Synod of Dort. It seems to me that the moral teaching of Synod trumps even Calvin’s – though I do not conceive the argument about Calvin’s.

        No, I am not saying that one need be an expert in medieval or even 16th-century history in order to properly interpret Calvin but one does need to know something about both in order to interpret him or any 16th-century writer. I cannot imagine a responsible Reformed interpreter of Scripture who would agree with the premise that it is possible or advisable to interpret the New Testament in the absence of its first century context and it’s Old Testament background.

        E.g. when Paul, in Acts 17, speaks to the Epicureans and Stoics it is necessary to know a little bit about those groups in order to properly interpret his remarks. The same is true throughout the New Testament, is it not?

        So, once more what were the range of Sabbatarian options on the table in the 16th century? I’ll give you a hint: what were some of the Anabaptist groups saying? Then, as I already asked, what had the medieval church done to the calendar? From what was the Protestant church emerging? What had Luther said about the fourth commandment in the large catechism?

        Then, as Bruce has ably pointed out, there are Calvin’s sermons. If we want to know how Calvin actually applied his understanding of the fourth commandment, we cannot do so without considering the way he himself interpreted his own work.

        When we suggest that there was tension or contradiction between his sermons and his treatises and his commentaries we are suggesting that we know, a priori, what he must have meant in the treatises and then we go to leverage the sermons with what we think he must’ve meant in the treatises. This is a strange hermeneutic indeed.

    • Dr. Clark, I’m not saying that Calvin’s view is the default Reformed view. I never said that at all. I don’t know anyone else who said that. I’m objecting to the idea that there’s only ever been one Reformed position, and the drafting of Calvin to your cause in order to support your assertion.

      • Matt,

        I do think you should read the chapter. The evidence that there was substantially one Reformed view of the Sabbath is very strong. There was diversity, within that unity, but there was a great deal of unity and even uniformity on the Sabbath in Geneva, Heidelberg, Edinburgh, and elsewhere. The so-called British view or the “Puritan” view did not drop out of the sky. It was not an anomaly.

    • I’ll give you a hint…

      This is my point; Matt is not able to make the leap from hint to what you actually mean, and neither am I. I realize you don’t want to reiterate an entire chapter of RRC right here, and I think Matt realizes it as well. Fair enough. I for one will be able to go home and re-read that portion of RRC to find out what you’re talking (or rather ‘hinting’) about.

      No one has mentioned the clear teaching of the Synod of Dort. It seems to me that the moral teaching of Synod trumps even Calvin’s

      It’s kind of funny, I think this addendum to Dordt is as little-known or -regarded as, say, BOCO or DPW. But, since you bring it up, …

      LC119: “The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are … all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.”

      Dordt: “This same day is thus consecrated for divine worship, so that in it one might rest from all servile works (with these excepted, which are works of charity and pressing necessity) and from those recreations which impede the worship of God.”

      Unless there’s some bad translation going on (and Latin has the ability to be exceedingly precise in this department), Dordt implicitly defines two categories of recreations on the Sabbath; those that impede worship (forbidden), and those which do not (either allowed or at a minimum, not addressed). So skipping church to watch football on TV, bad. Enjoying football on TV between attendance at both morning and evening services, in a non-obsessive way that does not occupy one’s attentions during those services: permissible. For many, football fanatacism may dictate it best that they tape games to watch after the Sabbath (would that be after the evening service, or after sundown, depending on the time of year?).

      For me, an actual recent personal example would be: skipping church to observe or participate with friends in an Ultimate (Frisbee) tournament in a local park: out of the question. Playing ultimate from 2-4, no burden on my conscience.

      • Rube,

        I don’t see any inherent tension between the two formulations you cite. Go back and look at the language Ursinus used to explain the Heidelberg catechism. His language is virtually identical to that of the Westminster divines.

        The divines were a little stronger rhetorically because they were, as I noted, in the midst of a Civil War and were faced with a more immediate threat of antinomianism than was faced by the pastors in Heidelberg. Nevertheless the Sabbath legislation in Heidelberg Was as strong as anywhere. Further, Ursinus’ language was remarkably strong given that he was not in the same situation as the Westminster divines.

        As to assessing the original setting of Calvin’s language, if one simply sets out to answer the questions I asked, one will be able to get a fairly clear grasp of his context and thus a clearer sense of his intention.

    • Formatting fail; I intended to boldly highlight the univocal “all” in LC, vs the contrast between “all” and “those” in Dordt.

      • Ruben,

        Even so, I am not aware that the Westminster divines thought of themselves as revising or correcting the Synod of Dort. If one, e.g. reads the European and British writers on the fourth commandment there was a great consensus.

        The Synod of Dort wanted to make clear that they were not placing Christians back under the ceremonial law— And why would that be? What is it about their context that would make them particularly sensitive to the matter of making it clear that Christians are free from the ceremonial law?

        They were, however, still working with Ursinus’ distinction between servile and necessary works. The Westminster divines also accepted this distinction. The divines, however, apply that distinction a little differently because of their setting.

        No Reformed writer or ecclesiastical assembly in that period accepted the notion that there is no distinction between one day or another, in any respect. They understood Paul to be addressing a particular error and they saw themselves as addressing an analogous error but they did not associate the Christian Sabbath with that error.

    • Well, I don’t really think one chapter out of your book is going to give me an understanding of the sixteenth century that I don’t already have. I know you seem to think I don’t know anything about the history of the Reformation, and the only basis you have for making that assumption about me is that I don’t agree with you. Well, that’s fine. You keep teaching your view, and I’ll keep teaching mine.

      • Matt,

        Whether you read the chapter is less important than whether you answer the historical and contextual questions that I asked. The only point in asking you to read the chapter is to help you see some things that I haven’t covered here and point you to other resources and texts that help fill out the picture.

        As a matter of history it is not a question of “this view” or that but what is the truth? What happened? Where? Why? As a matter of history we have to distinguish our own personal, exegetical, or theological views from what actually happened in the past.

        The Reformed tradition may have been wrong about the Sabbath — though I doubt that — that is one question what they taught and why is another.

  16. Dr. Clark, I read your comments to mean, “You can’t possibly understand the plain meaning of a text until you’ve done all the study I’ve done and agree with my conclusions.” I’m sorry, I know I don’t have a Ph D, but I’m a pretty good reader, and I think Calvin was perfectly able to write in such a way that I don’t have to know every single detail of medieval history in order to know that he wasn’t saying the opposite of what he appears to be saying. If Calvin actually agreed with the Westminster’s take on the Sabbath, then Calvin is an extremely poor writer.

  17. Yet both sides today will ecclesiastically observe days like Christmas and Easter…

    I think it is fair to say that neither side is really that serious about Sabbath observance.

    • Jeremy-

      My church does not observe Easter or Christmas and we observe the Sabbath according to the teaching of the Westminster Standards, i.e. the Bible.

      The fact is it doesn’t really matter what Calcin said. If one’s church subscribes to Westminstee then a faithful subscription will include a strict Sabbatarianism, i.e. if one’s church is Presbyterian it will include strict Sabbatarianism.

      I don’t know enough about 3Forms communions. But I think the notion that watching football between services as a legitimate Sabbath activity (we won’t get into whether its a legitimate Christuan activity) is bizarre.

      • Amen, thanks Alexander…

        Great to hear of churches that don’t bind the conscience on the matter of man-made holy days.

  18. I’m not a Sabbatarian, let alone a strict one but I agree with Jeremy on the following …

    “But I think the notion that watching football between services as a legitimate Sabbath activity (we won’t get into whether its a legitimate Christuan activity) is bizarre.”

    As one who is antinomian (denying the 3rd use of the Law), I find that – as I found to my chagrin in the UK that young people, some sons of pastors in the Puritan tradition, who are SUPPOSEDLY the heirs of Puritanism should indulge in activities that were explicitly condemned by their forbears – as antinomian. It seems that the cooler-THAN-thou attitude is simply the counterpart to the holier-than-thou attitude …

  19. RRC p. 309 “it is important to bear in mind that when Luther and Calvin are found to inveigh against Sabbatarians, it is these groups [seventh-day Baptists etc] they have in their sights, not the mainstream Christian practice of the Sabbath”.

    Calvin Inst. II.8.34It was not, however, without a reason that the early Christians substituted what we call the Lord’s day for the Sabbath. The resurrection of our Lord being the end and accomplishment of that true rest which the ancient sabbath typified, this day, by which types were abolished serves to warn Christians against adhering to a shadowy ceremony. I do not cling so to the number seven as to bring the Church under bondage to it, nor do I condemn churches for holding their meetings on other solemn days, provided they guard against superstition. This they will do if they employ those days merely for the observance of discipline and regular order. The whole may be thus summed up: As the truth was delivered typically to the Jews, so it is imparted to us without figure; first, that during our whole lives we may aim at a constant rest from our own works, in order that the Lord may work in us by his Spirit; secondly that every individual, as he has opportunity, may diligently exercise himself in private, in pious meditation on the works of God, and, at the same time, that all may observe the legitimate order appointed by the Church, for the hearing of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayer: And, thirdly, that we may avoid oppressing those who are subject to us. In this way, we get quit of the trifling of the false prophets, who in later times instilled Jewish ideas into the people, alleging that nothing was abrogated but what was ceremonial in the commandment, (this they term in their language the taxation of the seventh day), while the moral part remains—viz. the observance of one day in seven. [footnote: “making no other distinction between the Sunday and the Sabbath, save that the seventh day, which was kept till then, was abrogated, but that it was nevertheless necessary to keep some one day.] But this is nothing else than to insult the Jews, by changing the day, and yet mentally attributing to it the same sanctity; thus retaining the same typical distinction of days as had place among the Jews. And of a truth, we see what profit they have made by such a doctrine. Those who cling to their constitutions go thrice as far as the Jews in the gross and carnal superstition of sabbatism; so that the rebukes which we read in Isaiah (Isa. 1:13; 58:13) apply as much to those of the present day, as to those to whom the Prophet addressed them. We must be careful, however, to observe the general doctrine—viz. in order that religion may neither be lost nor languish among us, we must diligently attend on our religious assemblies, and duly avail ourselves of those external aids which tend to promote the worship of God.”

    So Calvin really seems not to be insisting on seven-ness, (would be ok with a 6- or 8-day week?) does not have a problem with holding worship on other days (ok with saturday sabbaths?) and sees Sunday worship as “the legitimate order appointed by the Church” (which implies the Church could have legitimately appointed a different order).

    He does not seem to be speaking against seventh-dayers here. He is speaking against (unnamed) “false prophets” who “chang[ed] the day, and yet mentally attribut[ed] to it the same sanctity; thus retaining the same typical distinction of days as had place among the Jews.”

  20. Really, didn’t Richard Gaffin already hash all of this out in “Calvin in the Sabbath”?

    There are few Reformed professors as esteemed as Dr. Gaffin. He is a minister of the OPC, a strict confessionalist and Sabbatarian, and yet he concluded that the WCF was at odds with Calvin, and critiques Calvin for it. Anyone who dares assert that Calvin’s view was the same as the WCF first needs to address and challenge Richard Gaffin’s conclusions in “Calvin and the Sabbath.”

  21. The “British view” of Sabbath is better and more accurately stated as the Puritan view, yes? And further, does the NT take us back to Eden, or forward to a more complete fulfillment of Sabbath as comprehended in Christ’s salvation? Does Sabbath stand alone as a regulation, or is it integrated with other facets of law that are abrogated?

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