Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Calvin on the Sabbath: an outline of the Institutes 2.8.28-34

Out of a concern that too many people who claim to be confessionally Reformed, that is, those who officially subscribe to the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort, are making the argument that the Reformed confessions maintain the same view on the 4th commandment as confessional Presbyterians, those who officially subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, I am presenting this brief outline of Calvin's view of the 4th commandment, where he makes it abundantly clear that he is not "sabbatarian" as are the Presyterians.

One reason I believe this is necessary is that many members of confessionally Reformed churches have had to live with a bound conscience when it came to the 4th commandment, because their teachers told them that the Reformed faith requires a strict observance of the Sabbath as taught in the Westminster Confession. I also post this up as a refutation of those teachers who want to claim that they stand with Calvin in binding and compelling consciences with respect to the 4th commandment. Many teachers who hold that point of view, will not be persuaded that based on this portion of Calvin's writings that they are wrong. That is fine with me, but at least the average person with little access to the broader arguments about this dispute, will have the proof before them, that Calvin's view of the 4th commandment is not Westminster's and it is not "sabbatarian." Calvin's own words are quite sufficient by themselves to refute the sophistries of those who make the false claim that they stand with him on the 4th commandment and impose a rigorous form of sabbath observance that savors of Judaism rather than Christ.

For all you then who are weak and heavy laiden in conscience due to being compelled to conform to the Westminster view of the 4th commandment, I hope Calvin's christo-centric and biblical-theological interpretation of the 4th commandment gives you considerable rest.


1. 2.8.28
a. the purpose of the commandment: The purpose of this commandment is that, being dead to our own inclinations and works, we should meditate on the Kingdom of God, and that we should practice that meditation in the ways established by him.
b. The 4th commandment and the interpretation by the Fathers
c. 3 reasons for the Sabbath
1) 7th day observance as sign of resting from sinful works
2) provide for a day for worship
3) give servants rest from labor

2. 2.8.29
a. fore-shadowing of spiritual rest occupied the chief place in the Sabbath.
b. the Sabbath is a sign whereby Israel may recognize that God is their sanctifier
c. a very close correspondence appears between the outward sign and the inward reality. We must be wholly at rest that God may work in us; we must yield our will; we must resign our heart.

3. 2.8.30
a. For the Jews the observance of one day in seven customarily represented this eternal cessation. The Lord commended it by his example that they might observe it with greater piety. To know that he is trying to imitate the Creator has no little value in arousing man’s zeal.
b. The number 7 indicates perpetuity
c. The Sabbath will not be consummated until the last day
d. the Lord through the seventh day has sketched for his people the coming perfection of his Sabbath in the Last Day, to make them aspire to this perfection by unceasing meditation upon the Sabbath throughout life.

4. 2.8.31
a. an alternative way of interpreting the number 7: he assigned the seventh day, either because he foresaw that it would be sufficient; or that, by providing a model in his own example, he might better arouse the people; or at least point out to them that the Sabbath had no other purpose than to render them conformable to their Creator’s example.
b. The principal meaning of the 7th day: perpetual repose from our labors.
c. by the Lord Christ’s coming the ceremonial part of this commandment was abolished
d. Jesus Christ is the true fulfillment of the Sabbath
1) For this: reason the apostle elsewhere writes that the Sabbath [Colossians 2:16] was “a shadow of what is to come; but the body belongs to Christ” [Colossians 2:17.
2) This is not confined within a single day but extends through the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God. Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days.

5. 2.8.32
a. 2 aspects in which the 4th commandment is still binding under the New Covenant
1) Although the Sabbath has been abrogated, there is still occasion for us: to assemble on stated days for the hearing of the Word, the breaking of the mystical bread, and for public prayers [cf. Acts 2:42];
2) to give surcease from labor to servants and workmen. There is no doubt that in enjoining the Sabbath the Lord was concerned with both.
b. Support for the 1st aspect: 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
c. We could meet every day: Why do we not assemble daily, you ask, so as to remove all distinction of days? If only this had been given us! Spiritual wisdom truly deserved to have some portion of time set apart for it each day. But if the weakness of many made it impossible for daily meetings to be held, and the rule of love does not allow more to be required of them, why should we not obey the order we see laid upon us by God’s will?

6. 2.8.33
a. its not Judaistic to regularly meet on the 1st day of the week: because at present some restless spirits are stirring up tumult over the Lord’s Day. They complain that the Christian people are nourished in Judaism because they keep some observance of days.
b. The difference between Judaistic observance and Christian observance of the 4th commandment: we transcend Judaism in observing these days because we are far different from the Jews in this respect. For we are not celebrating it as a ceremony with the most rigid scrupulousness, supposing a spiritual mystery to be figured thereby. Rather, we are using it as a remedy needed to keep order in the church.
c. Proper motive for abstaining from labor on the 1st day: they therefore abstained from manual tasks not because these are a diversion from sacred studies and meditations, but with a certain scrupulousness they imagined that by celebrating the day they were honoring mysteries once commended.
d. The change of day from last to 1st explained: 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.

7. 2.8.34
a. resurrection is the reason for 1st day observance
b. It is permissible to gather for worship on other days: I shall not condemn Churches that have other solemn days for their meetings, provided there be no superstition
c. 3 applications of the 4th commandment:
1) we are to meditate throughout life upon an everlasting Sabbath rest from all our works, that the Lord may work in us through his Spirit.
2) each one of us privately, whenever he has leisure, is to exercise himself diligently in pious meditation upon God’s works. Also, we should all observe together the lawful order set by the church for the hearing of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and for public prayers.
3) we should not inhumanly oppress those subject to us. f289 Thus vanish the trifles of the false
d. Calvin rebukes those who treat the 4th commandment like a Jew:
1) They asserted that nothing but the ceremonial part of this commandment has been abrogated (in their phraseology the “appointing” of the seventh day), but the moral part remains — namely, the fixing of one day in seven.
2) Yet this is merely changing the day as a reproach to the Jews, while keeping in mind the same sanctity of the day. For we still retain the same significance in the mystery of the days as pertained among the Jews. And we really see how they profit by such teaching.
3) For those of them who cling to their constitutions surpass the Jews three times over in crass and carnal Sabbatarian superstition.

3 comments:

danielj said...

If you could address Theonomy at some point I would be stoked.

danielj said...

Also, the inerrancy of Scripture would be a good one. What that means functionally.

Presbyterians tell me that the "long ending" of Mark might be interpolation. What do you think?

danielj said...

One more...

How about addressing the issue of slavery.

Dabney was a defender and I don't really see why he was wrong.