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Monday, May 30, 2011

Remember the Lord's Day - Is there a ‘Christian sabbath’? (Part 5)

The following is from "Remember the Lord's Day" by Dr. Peter Masters. You can purchase the book here



Some preachers today, in an effort to liberalise the Lord's Day, and pandering to the worldliness of many believers, have attempted to drive a wedge between Calvin and the Puritans, claiming that Calvin had an anti-sabbatarian view, while later Reformers together with the Puritans virtually went back to the Jewish sabbath. These preachers complain that it is the legalistic Puritan view we are burdened with in the 17th-century confessions (the Westminster, Baptist and Savoy). However, this claim is greatly mistaken because both Calvin and the Puritans, by varying routes, came to insist that believers should devote themselves entirely to God on the Lord's Day.

Any attempt to portray Calvin as anti-sabbatarian shows that his sermons on the fourth commandment have not been studied, for he urged upon Christians the complete death of self on Sunday, along with the putting aside of all distracting activities, in order to be ‘filled’ by God. Certainly he would have been appalled by the slackness that has developed in much of the evangelical world in the last forty years.

Later Reformers and Puritans laid greater emphasis on the abiding authority of the fourth commandment than Calvin, but all came to similar conclusions about the way the special day should be kept. We know that a few Puritan writers went to extremes over the Christian sabbath, prompting John Owen to remark, ‘A man can scarcely in six days read over all the duties that are proposed to be observed on the seventh.’ But extremism was not the general position. Exceptions to this consensus were kings, bishops and clergy who were anti-Puritan and largely anti-evangelical (especially in the reigns of James I and Charles I. It was James I who permitted Sunday recreations including dancing, archery, leaping and vaulting, and church beer parties. Charles I stipulated two hours in the morning for worship and the rest of the day for ease and recreation – rather like some evangelicals today.) It is tragic that some of their arguments are nowadays advanced by some preachers in reformed evangelical ranks.

Calvin stressed that, since Christ’s coming, the lives of believers should be a constant sabbath, every day of the year being given up to God. However, because this is not possible on earth, and there is need for a day when congregations can meet together, God gave the Lord's Day to continue regular worship, devotion, and teaching, along with the provision of a day of rest for workers, in the spirit of the old sabbath.

There are, Calvin taught, differences between the old sabbath and the Lord's Day, for the latter is not a ‘sacred’ day in the same way, so that if we had opportunity we could have seven Lord's Days each week, or if compelled, could move it to another day of the week. However, the Lord's Day, in Calvin’s view, perpetuates all the worship, sanctification and teaching features of the sabbath as well as the principle of total devotion. (Calvin’s words are quoted on page 29 opposite.)

While the inflexible regulations added by Moses have passed away, along with the insistence on the seventh day, Calvin held that the principle and spirit of the fourth commandment continues.

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