Is it not a Mockery? (Calvin on the Sabbath)

“Primus writes, “Calvin calls for a literal, physical cessation of daily labor on the Lord’s Day, not as an end in itself, but to provide time for worship of God. Recreational activity should also be suspended, for such activity interferes with worship as certainly as daily labor does. ‘If we spend the Lord’s day in making good cheer, and in playing and gaming, is that a good honouring of God? Nay, is it not a mockery, yea and a very unhallowing of his name?’””

Source:, Comment #8

“We must refrain from our own business which might hinder us from the mining of God’s works, and we must call upon His name and exercise our selves in His word. If we spend the Lord’s Day in making good cheer, and in playing and gaming, is that a good honoring of God? Nay, is it not a mockery, yea a very unhallowing of His name? Yes. But when the Shop-windows are shut in on the Lord’s Day, and men travel not as they do on other days, it is to the end [that] we should have the more leisure and liberty, to intend to the things that God commandeth… Yet notwithstanding it is so common a thing, as is pity to see (i.e. that people refuse to come to the sermon, conduct their own affairs, indulge in gluttony and withdraw into their homes away from the church on the Lord’s Day), and would God that [these] examples were more rare and further off to be found. But the world sees how all things are unhallowed, insomuch that most folk have no regard at all of the using of that Day, which was ordained to withdraw us from all earthly cares and affairs that we might give ourselves wholly unto God. But if the Lord’s Day be spent not only in games and pastimes fully contrary to God, so as men think they have not kept holy the Lord His Day, except God be offended divers ways; if the holy order which God ordained to bring us to Him be broken after that fashion, is it any wonder though men play the beasts all the week after?”

~Sermon 34 on Deuteronomy, in The Sermons of John Calvin upon the Fifth Book of Moses Called Deuteronomy, translated by Arthur Golding, London, 1583, page 204. Also translated in John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments, Benjamin W. Farley, 1980.

“From my personal research of Calvin’s Institutes, I’ve deduced that:

-Calvin recognizes that Christians in the New Covenant have a responsibility to obey the 4th commandment, and that it can be broken. II.8.28: “The early fathers customarily called this commandment a foreshadowing because it contains the outward keeping of a day which, upon Christ’s coming, was abolished; but they touch upon only half the matter. Hence, we must go deeper in our exposition, and ponder three conditions in which, it seems to me, the keeping of this commandment consists.

-Calvin on what should guide our worship: “Meetings of the church are enjoined upon us by God’s word; and from our everyday experience we well know how we need them. But how can such meetings be held unless they have been established and have their stated days?” And then he goes on to say “if we are subject to the same necessity as that to alleviate which the Lord established the Sabbath for the Jews, let no one allege that this has nothing to do with us“. Here he states that the order of corporate worship has been established by the 4th commandment.

He goes from there to clearly affirm that we should “obey the order we see laid upon us by God’s will“, in that weekly worship is demanded by the 4th commandment.

-However, Calvin also, very confusingly, calls Sunday the Sabbath: “in the churches founded by him [Paul], the Sabbath was retained for this purpose [Christian fellowship]. For he prescribes that day to the Corinthians for gathering contributions; 1 Cor 16:2.”

He then says: “because it was expedient to overthrow superstition, the day sacred to the Jews was set aside; because it was necessary to maintain decorum, order, and peace in the church, another was appointed for that purpose.” That is, another Sabbath, was appointed, per 1 Cor 16.

He also affirms, in II.8.34: “the ancients did not substitute the Lord’s Day (as we call it) for the Sabbath without careful discrimination. The purpose and fulfillment of that true rest, represented by the ancient Sabbath, lies in the Lord’s resurrection.“”

Source:, Comment 9


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