The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation

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Puritanboard Librarian
James T. Dennison, Jr., The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700, Appendix 2: The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation, pp. 174-176:

Appendix 2

The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation

The Puritans were not opposed to recreations per se. Lawful ("honest") recreations were encouraged on the other six days of the week. Bownd's remark was typical: "I am not of that thinke that men should never take delight, and that all recreation were sinfull..."1 However, even honest recreations were to be suspended on the Lord's day because they interfered with the proper sanctification of the Sabbath.2 The Puritans also cited Isaiah 58:13-14 in defense of their position; God had clearly revealed His opposition to taking one's own "pleasure" on the Sabbath.3

Some would counter the Puritan arguments with the observation that recreation was not possible on any day other than Sunday.4 The Puritan reply is significant: "If men will allow seruants recreations, let them allow part of their owne time, and be liberall in that which their owne, and not in that which God hath giuen them no such warrant to bestow on their seruants."5

Labor was not to be exploited. Men were to be allowed honest recreations Monday through Saturday.6 Though the general rule was that Sunday was playday, people did find time for sport on week-days; witness Bridenbaugh's remark: "...young men who would 'endure long and hard labour in so much that after twelve hours hard work they will go in the evening to football, stoole ball, cricket, prison-base, wrestling, cugel throwing, or some such like vehement exercise.'"7

Richard Baxter maintained that the argument from lack of spare time on week-days was a "sad argument to be used by them that by racking of rents do keep them (laboring people) in poverty."8 The Puritan protest against Sabbath profanation was also a protest against overwork on the other six days of the week.

But the truth is, it is not the minds of poor laboring men, that are overworked and tired on week-days, but it is their bodies; and therefore there is no recreation so suitable to them as the ease of the body, and the holy and joyful exercise of the mind, upon their Creator, and their Redeemer, and their everlasting rest.9

1 Bownd, Sabbathum Veteris, p. 271; cf. Dudley Fenner, A Short and Profitable Treatise, of lavvful and unlavvful Recreations; William Perkins, 1558-1602: English Puritanist, ed. by Thomas F. Merrill (Nieuwkoop, 1966), pp. 217-22 with extracts from Perkins' The Whole Treatise of Cases of Conscience, Book 3.
2 Elton, An Exposition of the Ten Commandments, pp. 54-56; George Walker, The Doctrine of the Holy Weekly Sabbath (London, 1641), p. 157; Richard Baxter, The Divine Appointment of the Lord's Day, pp. 440, 444-445.
3 Cf. Nicolas Bifield (Byfield), The Beginning of the Doctrine of Christ, or, A Catalogue of Sinnes (London, 1636), p. 63.
4 For a survey of the relative truth of this point, see Carl Bridenbaugh, Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1590-1642 (New York, 1968), pp. 109-118.
5 John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandments (London, 1628), p. 140.
6 Percy Scholes (The Puritans and Music in England and New England (London, 1934), pp. 104-111) mentions the provisions of a bill presented to Parliament in 1647 which allowed every other Tuesday to be designated as a holiday. Scholes' judicious treatment of the Puritan attitude toward recreation is refreshing as well as accurate; cf. also pp. 302-331. Compare Hugh Martin, Puritanism and Richard Baxter (London, 1954), pp. 101-106.
7 Bridenbaugh, Vexed, p. 115.
8 Baxter, Divine Appointment, p. 444.
9 Ibid., p. 445.


Puritanboard Commissioner

Practically, God generously gave us one whole day to not have to burden ourselves with work or even the thought of having to entertain ourselves.

There is even an implied promise in this that God will provide needs (money, material needs) though we are not working to earn money on the Lord's Day.

This is the goodness of God- we are not created as machines who work non-stop. We can enjoy recreation and entertainment but on the Lord's Day we can cease from all these ordinary activities and enjoy fellowship with our God.
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