Contend Earnestly: Calvin and The Sabbath

Monday, December 18, 2006

Calvin and The Sabbath

I am just curious here with how Calvin saw the Sabbath. I know that some of you are better historians than I, but wanted to see what you thought of this quote from Calvin. He states in here that the Sabbath has been abrogated. Here's the quote:

There were three reasons for giving this [fourth] commandment: First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest, whereby believers must cease from their own works in order to let the Lord work in them. Secondly, he wished that there be an established day in which believers might assemble in order to hear his Law and worship him. Thirdly, he willed that one day of rest be granted to servants and to those who live under the power of others so that they might have a relaxation from their labor. The latter, however, is rather an inferred than a principal reason.

As to the first reason, there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ; because he
is the truth by the presence of which all images vanish. He is the reality at
whose advent all shadows are abandoned. Hence St. Paul (Col. 2:17) affirms that
the sabbath has been a shadow of a reality yet to be. And he declares else-where
its truth when in the letter to the Romans, ch. 6:8, he teaches us that we are
buried with Christ in order that by his death we may die to the corruption of
our flesh. And this is not done in one day, but during all the course of our
life, until altogether dead in our own selves, we may be filled with the life of
God. Hence, superstitious observance of days must remain far from Christians.

The two last reasons, however, must not be numbered among the shadows of
old. Rather, they are equally valid for all ages. Hence, though the sabbath is
abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order
to hear the word of God, to break the [mystic] bread of the Supper, and to offer
public prayers; and, moreover, in order that some relaxation from their toil be
given to servants and workingmen. As our human weakness does not allow such
assemblies to meet every day, the day observed by the Jews has been taken away
(as a good device for eliminating superstition) and another day has been
destined to this use. This was necessary for securing and maintaining order and
peace in the Church.

As the truth therefore was given to the Jews under
a figure, so to us on the contrary truth is shown without shadows in order,
first of all, that we meditate all our life on a perpetual sabbath from our
works so that the Lord may operate in us by his spirit; secondly, in order that
we observe the legitimate order of the Church for listening to the word of God,
for admin-istering the sacraments, and for public prayers; thirdly, in order
that we do not oppress inhumanly with work those who are subject to us. [From
Instruction in Faith, Calvin's own 1537 digest of
the Institutes, sec. 8, "The
Law of the Lord"].


Anonymous said...

Seth, Calvin here speaks of the abrogation of the OT observance of the Jewish Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. He argues for the obserance of the Lord's Day as a Christian Sabbath through his desire to see it set aside as a day of worship, meditation and rest. In other words, it's function as a type ceases when Christ, our Sabbath, came as did all the types of the OT.

It might be helpful to know that "Sabbath" means "one in seven". We don't draw our doctrine of the Sabbath based upon the notion we are keeping the law as if Christ had not fulfilled this aspect of it. We honor the Lord's Day Because Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath.

If you want to pursue a more serious study of the Christian Sabbath, I'd point you first to Charles Hodges work on the Sabbath. And if I can be of any more help, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

For a well reasoned view on the sabbath - may I suggest John Reisenger's website: - here John publishes John Bunyan Treatise on the Sabbath. I believe you will find a lot to think about here.

here is a taste:
Here are the four questions that Bunyan deals with in "proving that the seventh day sabbath was not moral."

Question I. Whether the seventh day sabbath is of, or made known to, man by the law and light of nature?

Bunyan gives four arguments to prove the answer is no. Neither natural revelation nor conscience teaches anyone that there is any kind of a Sabbath.

Question II. Whether the seventh day sabbath, as to man\'s keeping of it holy, was ever made known to, or imposed by, a positive precept upon him until the time of Moses? Which from Adam was about two thousand years.

Bunyan then gives five proofs that the answer is no. If the identical question were asked today it would read, "Was the Sabbath commandment a Creation Ordinance given to Adam or was it first made known to Israel at Sinai?" This is the key point in the whole argument. Covenant Theology\'s whole theology of law hangs on the answer to this one question.

Question III. Whether when the seventh day sabbath was given to Israel in the wilderness the Gentiles, as such, were concerned therein.

Bunyan again uses five arguments to prove that the Gentiles were not given the sabbath commandment

Question IV. Whether the seventh day sabbath did not fall, as such, with the rest of the Jewish rites and ceremonies? Or whether that day, as a sabbath, was afterwards by the Apostles imposed upon the churches of the Gentiles?

Bunyan has eight arguments with many sub points proving (1) that the seventh day Sabbath did indeed cease with Christ, and (2) that the Gentiles never were put under "that day, as a sabbath." (At this point I believe it would be both legitimate and essential to ask Bunyan on what grounds the Gentile Christians could be put under the so-called Christian Sabbath? Either the first part of his thesis is wrong and should be discredited or else his arguments in that section are valid and thus destroys the necessary foundation for his Christian Sabbath. If the first part of his thesis is correct, then he totally failed to build on the things he proved, building instead on the very presuppositions of the classic covenant theology that he just demolished. It seems to me that Bunyan cannot have his cake and eat it too. I personally do not question that his arguments in the first section are correct).

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that the OT Sabbath was a type of that Sabbath that Christ would usher in. And the Sunday Sabbath that we now enjoy still has a type aspect to it. Although we are resting in Christ, we are not doing so perfectly and completely until the resurrection. So there remains a part of the Sabbath to still be procured at the last day. This is the already/not yet paradigm that is in so much of the NT. It has been given to us in Christ, but not consummated yet.

I am also drawn to the idea that it is of creation and not of the "Law" per say. The Sabbath was introduced in Gen 1 with the six day creation and one day of rest. Christ coming to make a new creation, it only makes sense that we would celebrate it when His re-creation was complete - the day of His resurrection.

Anonymous said...

"I am also drawn to the idea that it is of creation and not of the "Law" per say."

Theologian, what in Scripture draws you to this idea? Obviously, the LORD's rest first occurred in Genesis, but that is not what we're dealing with when we're talking about Man's responsibility to "keep the Sabbath." THe question is not "when did God first rest," but rather "when was Man first required to keep the Sabbath." As Bunyan and Calvin both have been quoted in this blog, it certainly was not "introduced in Gen 1." Are you then referring to other parts of Scripture that I am not thinking of?

Anonymous said...

Gen 2:3 shows God blessing the seventh day and making it holy. I think that's what makes the Sabbath a creative decree.

I think Ex 16:26 is the first instance of the Sabbath being observed. This comes before any definitive law of the Sabbath, so i believe this is rooted all the way back to Gen 2:3.

Also the original creation and renewed creation seem to have parallels on the Sabbath issue, which is why we hold it to be Sunday after the resurrection of Christ.

Seth McBee said...

So then if there is a renewed creation, why isn't there a renewed view of Sabbatical rest?

Since, Creation of the world vs New Creation of people (born again)or (2 Cor 5:17) from actual work vs rest from works righteousness...

seems to make a logical wouldn't just be a changed day...has to be way more significant, as significant as Gentiles being apart of God's chosen.

Anonymous said...


The renewed rest is found in Christ, in His accomplished work in His death and resurrection. That was why the day was moved, because that's when Christ finished His work.

So yes, that is a significant change from the OT Sabbath which was not resting in the finished work of Christ, but pointing to it.

And our current rest still points to a greater rest to come.

Lance Roberts said...

I'm heartened to see that I share the view Calvin had of the Sabbath. Thanks for the post.

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