Calvin's view on the Sabbath

Discussion in 'Church History' started by Neogillist, Jul 28, 2008.

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  1. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    I have been reading Calvin's Institutes lately, and found it interesting to note some differences between Calvin's theology and the Puritan's. One such difference we find is Calvin's view on the Sabbath.

    While the puritans viewed the Sabbath as a creation ordinance that preceeded the fall, Calvin appears to view it more as a type of ceremony designed to point to the everlasting rest of the saints in heaven. Consequently, rather than saying that the Sabbath day was changed to the first day of the week and its ceremonial part abolished but its moral part continuing, Calvin viewed the Sabbath as having been abolished and replaced by the Lord's Day:

    "It 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."

    The puritans, however, would use the term "Sabbath" and "Lord's Day" interchangeably while Calvin did not. They also went at much greater length to outline what was permissible and forbidden on the Sabbath while Calvin states:

    "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. 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: l3; 58: 13) apply as much to those of the present day, as to those to whom the Prophet addressed them."

    Consequently, Calvin would have been opposed to the puritanical observance of the Sabbath that was commonplace in some of the New England colonies. Indeed, some of them even had an exact hour either on Saturday night or Sunday at 0:00 where the Sabbath day would officially begin.

    The puritans were also opposed to the celebration of any other religious holidays like Christmas and Easter on account that such are not commanded anywhere in the New Testament. Calvin, on the contrary, was not opposed to celebrating other days so long as there would be no superstition:

    "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."

    Overall, Calvin's doctrine of the Lord's Day is summed up in the following:

    "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... 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."

    All quotes taken from Calvin's Institutes at
    Calvinism Soteriology Topics (#34)

    Personally, while I used to hold to the puritan's view on the Sabbath, I think I now adopt Calvin's view as it appears to be more biblical and moderate.
  2. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

  3. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Calvin from a practical standpoint was puritan (to speak anachronistically) which scholarship in recent decades has shown (John Primus, etc), and a recent author has shown he is more closely aligned theologically to the Puritans than that literature concedes (e.g. Gaffin). For the practical agreement see:

    Calvin in the Hands of the Philistines: Or Did Calvin Bowl on the Sabbath? | Naphtali Press

    For the latter see: John Calvin, the Nascent Sabbatarian: A Reconsideration of Calvin’s View of Two Key Sabbath-Issues. By Stewart E. Lauer in The Confessional Presbyterian 3 (2006) 3-14. Available at The Confessional Presbyterian
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2008
  4. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    My understanding about Gaffin's work is that he shows how Calvin saw the Sabbath as prefiguring us resting in Christ 24/7 and that the day was substantially ceremonial, then attempts to refute, using Hebrews, that argument of Calvin's.
  5. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Lauer does take on Gaffin, Primus and Matsuda (a Japanese author; Lauer's piece was first published in Japanese in Reformed Theology).
  6. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    I do not deny that Calvin is in the same line as the puritans, and I was also aware that the story of Calvin bowling on the Sabbath is a false rumor that did not appear until the 1800s. However, I like how he does not attempt to outline in what respect the Sabbath was ceremonial and in what ways it was a moral observance. Calvin does not deny that there is a moral aspect to the 4th commandment since he does identify a ceremonial part:

    "Still there can be no doubt, that, on the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ceremonial part of the commandment was abolished. He is the truth, at whose presence all the emblems vanish; the body, at the sight of which the shadows disappear. He, I say, is the true completion of the sabbath: "We are buried with him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life," (Rom. 6: 4.) Hence, as the Apostle elsewhere says, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ," (Col. 2: 16, 17;) meaning by body the whole essence of the truth, as is well explained in that passage. This is not contented with one day, but requires the whole course of our lives, until being completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God. Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with a superstitious observance of days."

    I think he considers the ceremonial part to be the choice of the 7th day (Saturday) and various observances attached to it. But overall, I think his position comes closer to the Reformed Baptist's view as held by John Bunyan and Gill than the Presbyterian view. I saw an ancient book by William Twisse on the observance of the Sabbath that I would like to read at some point to re-challenge my views.
  7. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    This is what I like about Puritan Board.

    Not only would I not have otherwise known that Mr Calvin was reputed to be a bowler, but that that reputation was false, and a rumor at that.:cool:
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Try reading Calvin's exposition (sermons) on the 4th commandment, and then try to convince me that he had a seriously different view of it from the Puritans.

    The Puritans were seriously influenced in their views by Calvin.
  9. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    I don't know, Bruce. Perhaps I've misunderstood, but, I've read Calvin's sermons on the 10 commandments, and I personally thought that he was more out of line with the common Puritans on the 4th commandment in many of those paragraphs than he was in congruety with them. Not to debate too much with you, but I don't know that he was as much of a Sabbatarian as many would have liked him to be. I'm sure that some of his statements regarding this topic have very well influenced the Puritans, as you have well said. But, if the context and thrust of these sermons are sincerely regarded, in my opinion, his statements regarding the Sabbath cannot be too easily misunderstood as to their striking difference from the later Puritans, as I'm sure you are wise enough to perceive. Luther was even more-so profound. And, both were later highly criticized for such.

    Blessings and kind regards in our fellowship together!
  10. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Forsoothe dear sirs, the Churche of Christ is not to be unduly vexed over this damnably false saying of some about Master Calvin’s Sabbath familiarity with bowls. I vouchsafe to thee all upon my honor that at least we can know for surety that he did not the internet surf on said Sabbath days.
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Thank you for your kindness.

    I certainly wouldn't call Calvin an English Puritan, or even a Scottish Presbyterian. But although his influence on different aspects of the later Reformed theology varies in depth and quality, yet it seems clear to me that even here the British Isles Reformers owe Calvin for some of their foundation. They worked it out a bit more, and a bit more consistently IMO, But they have not moved away from him much, if at all.

    Here is an excerpt from the Deuteronomy Sermons (I transcribed on another occasion) preached in the summer of 1555:
    “Now from the foregoing we see what attitude[SIZE="-1"]68 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 order[SIZE="-1"]69[/SIZE] which God instituted to lead us to himself, why should they be astonished if all the rest of the week is degraded?”[/SIZE]​
    From “The Fifth Sermon”, which, along with “The Sixth Sermon”, address the 4th commandment. Benjamin W. Farley, transl., John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments (Baker, 1980; paperback reprint 2000)

    I don't doubt, but one can seek to "balance" such statements with some of his other comments. But THESE are the kinds of comments that really show how close to Calvin are his later followers from Westminster.
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