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


Renewing Our Covenant

“… our audience in corporate worship is not people. Corporate worship is not about pleasing people, whether ourselves, the congregation, or unbelieving seekers. Worship in the corporate gathering is about renewing our covenant with God by meeting with Him and relating to Him in ways that He has prescribed. We do this specifically by hearing and heeding His Word, confessing our own sinfulness and our dependence on Him, thanking Him for his goodness to us, bringing our requests before Him, confessing His truth, and lifting our voices and instruments to Him in response to and in accord with the way that He has revealed Himself in His Word.”

~Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church


If the Activity is Conducive to Worship, then it is Lawful

Here is a great thought from Lane Keister on how to figure out whether or not an activity is pleasing to God on the Sunday Christian Sabbath:

“On what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath, there is endless debate, stretching all the way back to Talmudic times (the Talmud has an entire treatise on the Sabbath). Rather than asking about a specific activity, as to whether or not it is lawful (and usually with the mindset of what the person can get away with), it is more helpful to remember that the rest in view is not simply physical rest, but rather a rest of worshipping the Lord. Therefore, if the activity is conducive to worship, then it is lawful. We cannot ignore the human conscience here either, since an activity that might be conducive for worship to one person may not be conducive to worship for someone else. To take one example, it is certainly wise to let small children let loose some of their excess energy on the Sabbath (contrary to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy!).  Otherwise, they will not be able to sit still and pay attention in worship. One does not have to take the attitude of Almanzo Wilder’s father in order to have a Puritan view of what is acceptable on the Sabbath! It is certainly a work of necessity to do something about the energy of small children. We must avoid both extremes of legalism and antinomianism here, as well as everywhere in our treatment of the law.”

~”The Sabbath Day and Recreations on the Sabbath: An Examination of the Sabbath and the Biblical Basis for the “No Recreation” Clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 and Westminster Larger Catechism 117″ in The Confessional Presbyterian, Volume 5 (2009)

Rest From Our Daily Work

“The difference between the Puritan Sabbath and the Continental Sunday should not be exaggerated, especially so far as the actual practices of churches in the Reformed tradition are in view. To be sure, at the confessional level, there are differences, although these, too, are not as substantial as sometimes maintained. The Three Forms of Unity, the confessional standards of Continental Calvinism, do treat the Sabbath much less extensively and with a somewhat different accent than the Westminster Standards. But in the main, especially beginning in the seventeenth century following the Synod of Dort, British-American Presbyterianism and Continental Calvinism became of one mind on what Sunday observance should look like: in view of the continuing validity of the fourth commandment, Sunday is to be a day of rest from our daily work, devoted primarily to the worship of God.”

~Richard Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath” in The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, pp. 123-124

Two Rules For Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy

J.C. Ryle:

What then appears to be the will of God about the manner of observing the Sabbath Day? There are two general rules laid down for our guidance in the Fourth Commandment, and by them all questions must be decided.

One plain rule about the Sabbath is that it must be kept as a day of rest, All work of every kind ought to cease as far as possible, both of body and mind. “Thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” Works of necessity and mercy may be done. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this, and teaches also that all such works were allowable in the Old Testament times. “Have ye not read,” He says, “what David did?” — “Have ye not read that the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matt. 12:5). Whatever, in short, is necessary to preserve and maintain life, whether of ourselves, or of the creatures, or to do good to the souls of men, may be done on the Sabbath Day without sin.

The other great rule about the Sabbath is, that it must be kept holy. It is not to be a carnal, sensual rest, like that of the worshippers of the golden calf, who “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exod. 32:6). It is to be emphatically a holy rest. It is to be a rest in which, as far as possible, the affairs of the soul may be attended to, business of another world minded, and communion with God and Christ kept up. In short, it ought never to be forgotten that it is “the Sabbath of the Lord our God” (Exod. 20:10).

I am no Pharisee. Let no hard-working man who has been confined to a close room for six weary days, suppose that I object to his taking any lawful relaxation for his body on the Sunday. I see no harm in a quiet walk on a Sunday, provided always that it does not take the place of going to public worship, and is really quiet, and like that of Isaac (Gen. 24:63). I read of our Lord and His disciples walking through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. All I say is, beware that you do not turn liberty into licence — beware that you do not injure the souls of others in seeking relaxation for yourself — and beware that you never forget you have a soul as well as a body.

I am no enthusiast. I want no tired labourer to misunderstand my meaning, when I bid him to keep the Sabbath holy. I do not tell anyone that he ought to pray all day, or read his Bible all day, or go to church all day, or meditate all day, without let or cessation, on a Sunday. All I say is, that the Sunday rest should be a holy rest. God ought to be kept in view; God’s Word ought to be studied; God’s House ought to be attended; the soul’s business ought to be specially considered; and I say that everything which prevents the day being kept holy in this way, ought as far as possible to be avoided.


An Old-Fashioned Sabbath

Here is a description from Little House in the Big Woods of how the Sabbath was kept by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandfather:

When your Grandpa was a boy, Laura, Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning, as it does now.  It began at sundown on Saturday night.  Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.

Supper was solemn.  After supper, Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair.  Then they all knelt down, and their father said a long prayer.  When he said, “Amen,” they got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed.  They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing, or even talking.

Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday.  Then they all dressed in their best clothes and walked to church.  They walked because hitching up the horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.

They must walk slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead.  They must not joke or laugh, or even smile.  Grandpa and his two brothers walked ahead, and their father and mother walked behind them.

In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon.  They dared not fidget on the hard bench.  They dared not swing their feet.  They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church.  They must sit perfectly motionless, and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.

When church was over, they walked slowly home.  They might talk on the way, but they must not talk loudly and they must never laugh or smile.  At home they ate a cold dinner which had been cooked the day before.  Then all the long afternoon they must sit in a row on a bench and study their catechism, until at least the sun went down and Sunday was over.

Keep Up a Standard for Christ in the World

The public ordinances on the Lord’s day, whatever they do else, they keep up a standard for Christ in the world; and to slight them is to fill the world with atheism and profaneness. As it would be the sin of ministers not to administer them, so it is the sin of people not to attend on them. But O, how does this profanation abound, by unnecessary absenting from public ordinances! It is not enough to spend the time in private. God requires both; and the one must not justle out the other.

~ Thomas Boston, Works, 2:198

Source:, Comment #1

Divine Worship Should Transcend All Times, Places, and Cultures

Michael Daniels:

“Divine worship is timeless, universal and transcendental. It does not have the fickleness of culture. Worship transcends the culture moment- the time, place and group out of which it has risen. The worship of the scriptures is universal and avoids the narrow generational or cultural classification and should transcend sect, race, generation, or party.”

Source and read more: