Calvin Preaches About the Sabbath

Calvin’s rejection of the Sabbath as a new covenant ordinance is used by many contemporary Christians to alleviate their obligations on the Lord’s Day.  The thought goes something like this: “The Sabbath ordinance from the OT has been done away with. Therefore no day is to be elevated above another. We can work and carry on commerce on any day we wish, as long as we attend a worship service at some point. And Calvin the great reformer agrees with us.” Calvin’s position has been the subject of much debate. Richard Gaffin thinks Calvin’s position is different from that expressed in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Even if that is the case, and not all agree it is, in practice there was little difference between Calvin’s position and that of the Puritans even though the theology behind the practices was not the same. This is an important point because many Christians today are not as concerned with Calvin’s theology of the Sabbath as they are with finding a way to justify their own loose 21st century Sunday practices. Over at TCI, they explain why  the underlying theology is different and yet it worked out the same by looking at Calvin’s view of the two kingdoms. My goal in this post is to show one example of Calvin preaching about the Sabbath and the expectations he gave to his people as he did so. Here are several paragraphs from Calvin’s sermon on Deuteronomy 5:12-14 preached in 1555. He has just finished giving a long explanation of how the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and calls upon his congregation to trust in God and kill the sins in our lives. He is preaching justification by faith and sanctification in the first part of the sermon.  Then he follows with these long paragraphs that I have broken up for easier reading.

Now we must come to the second point which emphasizes that the Sabbath day was a type of civil order for the training of the faithful in the service of God. For that day was ordained in order that people must assemble themselves to hear doctrine of the law preached, to participate in the sacrifices, and to invoke the name of God. With respect to that, it applies to us as much as to the ancient people. For although the figurative aspect has been surpassed, I affirm what Paul says in the Letter to the Colossians: that nevertheless what is said of this order still applies and has it usage.

And what is this order? It is to assemble ourselves in the name of God. Indeed it is true that that must always be done, but because of our weakness, even because of our laziness, it is necessary for one day to be chosen. It we were as ardent in the service of God as we should be, it would not have been necessary to ordain one day of the week, for without a written law each would have assembled himself morning and evening in order that we might have become increasingly edified in the Word of God. And whereas we are so inclined toward evil that nothing is required to debauch us, that practice would still be necessary for us; thus we have need of assembling ourselves every day in the name of God. But what is the actual case? We see with what great pain people assemble themselves on Sunday and how necessary it is to use force to retain a large part of the world. Thus seeing such a weakness in ourselves, let us acknowledge that this order was not given solely to the Jews in order for them to have a certain day on which they might assemble themselves, but at the same time it applies to us. 

Nevertheless, we have to note that there is more and that indeed it would be a meagre thing to have a rest regarding physical activity, but not involving anything else. What is necessary then? That we should strive toward a higher end than this rest here; that we should desist from our works which are able to impede us from meditating on the works of God, from calling upon his name, and from exercising his Word. If we turn Sunday into a day for living it up, for our sport and pleasure, indeed how will God be honored in that? Is it not a mockery and even a profanation of his name? But when shops are closed on Sunday, when people do not travel in the usual way, its purpose is to provide more leisure and liberty for attending to what God commands us, that we might be taught by his Word, that we might convene together in order to confess our faith, to invoke his name, and to participate in the use of the sacraments. That is the end for which this order must serve us. 

Now let us consider whether those who call themselves Christians require of themselves what they should. There is a large group which thinks that Sunday exists for the purpose of enabling them to attend to their own affairs and for one thing and another. The rest glut themselves and are shut up in their houses because they do not dare display manifest scorn on the streets; in any case, Sunday is nothing more than a retreat for them in which they stand aloof from the church of God

Now from the foregoing we see in that attitude we hold all Christianity and the service of God. For what was given to us in order to help us approach God, we use as an occasion for alienating ourselves from him even more. And as a result we are led astray. We must recover it all. Is not such a diabolical malice in men? Would to God that we had to look hard for examples and that they were more rare. But as everything is profaned, we see that the majority hardly care about the usage of this day which has been instituted in order that we might withdraw from all earthly anxieties, from all business affairs, to the end that we might surrender everything to God. 

Here are a few other quotes from the sermon.

We no longer have this figure and shadow for the purpose of keeping a ceremony as rigid as it was under the bondage of the law. Rather its purpose is to gather us in order that according to our weakness we might be trained to devote ourselves better to the service of God, that we might have this day fully dedicated to him to the end that we might be withdrawn from the world, as we have said, that is serve us for the rest of our life. 

In order to demonstrate the liberty of Christians, the day has been changed, seeing that Jesus Christ in his resurrection has delivered us from all bondage of the law and has severed that obligation.

Here is the final section of the sermon.

It [the Sabbath] was a day of the week in which they [the Jews] were to rest, today, having understood that it was abolished with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the spiritual rest that we might dedicate ourselves fully to God, renouncing all our senses and all our affections. In addition, we have the external order-insofar as it applies to us- which exists for the purpose of enabling us to set aside our affairs and earthly business in order that, abstaining from everything else, we might meditate on the works of God and be trained to recognize the favors which God bestows on us. Furthermore, it inspires us to recognize the grace which he daily offers us in his Gospel that we might be conformed to it more and more. And when we have spent Sunday in praising and glorifying  the name of God and meditating on his works, then throughout the rest of the week, we should show that we have benefited from it.

The entire sermon is worth reading. Here is what Calvin preached to his congregation about their obligations on Sunday. Calvin expected commerce and business to cease. He expected Sunday to be entirely set aside for the worship and praise of God. He chastised those who chose to disregard the day and spend it wrapped up in earthly affairs. The lack of bondage to the Old Testament Sabbath laws did not alleviate the obligation to have one day entirely devoted to the Lord. Calvin does not have a problem with saying the Old Testament Sabbath was fulfilled in Christ and yet the New Testament saints still must gather weekly for an entire day of worship, rest, and fellowship. In practice, Geneva would reprimand and at times discipline those who violated the Lord’s Day.

Sunday in Geneva did not look like the practice of contemporary Christians who spend the Lord’s Day in regular business and commerce or who spend Saturday doing as they please and then show up for a 6 pm worship service so they can spend Sunday doing as they please. At times, I agree with those who think the Sunday restrictions of our fathers in the faith were too tight. However, we cannot read back into Calvin what we wished he would have said and done. Calvin did not support the Sabbath as a continuing ordinance. But one can also see, especially in his sermons, that Calvin would have considered current Sunday practices by Christians as loose and making a mockery of God and His Word.

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Part III~The Sabbath in the New Testament


As we saw earlier, the Old Testament Sabbath was a sign. We saw that many of the Old Testaments signs were transformed in the New Testament. Is this the case with Sabbath? Or does the New Testament teach that we are to celebrate the Sabbath exactly as it is in the Old Covenant? We will look at two passages to help us understand this, Hebrews 4 and Colossians 2:16.

             In Hebrews 4 the author is comparing the present generation of Christians with the generation that refused to enter the Promise land. Throughout the passage, we are told to not be like the Israelites who did not believe and did not obey (See 3:19 and 4:6).  Instead we are to exercise our faith and enter into the promised rest. The word for “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 is sabbitismos, which means “keeping the Sabbath.”  4:9 can be translated, “There is still a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God.” At first glance, this might appear to be a good case for the continuation of the Sabbath in the New Covenant. However, this passage has nothing to do with worshiping on a specific day or keeping the Old Testament Sabbath regulations. It has to do with faith in Christ. We are told to enter “his rest.” (4:1). Who are the ones who enter the rest? Those who have believed. (4:3) What day is the day to enter God’s rest?  Today. (4:6-7) What happens to those who enter that rest?  They come boldly to the throne of grace. (4:11-16) So here we have the Old Testament Sabbath fulfilled in those who believe upon Christ, rest from their works and obey his commands.  This passage does not teach that we should continue observing the Old Testament Sabbath. In fact, it points us to the reality that the Sabbath was but a shadow of, Jesus Christ.

            Colossians 2:16-17 also shows that the Old Testament Sabbath has been transformed by Christ.  Here are those verses: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”
            The phrase, “festival, new moon or Sabbaths” was a common way of referring to the various Jewish holy days. The exact same phrase is used in Ezekiel 45:17 and Hosea 2:11.  They go in descending order from yearly celebrations (festivals) to monthly celebrations (new moon) to weekly celebrations (Sabbaths).  
            Paul says two important things about these holy days. First, no one should be judged as to whether they keep or observe these days. Observance of these holy days is no longer required.  Second, these days belong to the shadow, the Old Covenant ways, which have been fulfilled in Christ.  The shadows are gone. The reality is here.  That is why we no longer celebrate the feast days from the Old Testament. These days can teach us about Christ and his work. But they have been transformed by Christ. Our feast days, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension Day revolve around Christ and his work and are not mandatory.  There are obvious parallels with the Old Testament feasts, but we do not celebrate the shadows. We celebrate the reality. 

            Both Hebrews 4 and Colossians 2:16-17 teach that the Old Testament Sabbath has been fulfilled and transformed with coming of Christ.  So from the teaching in the Old Testament and the New Testament we see that the Sabbath was a sign. Like other signs, the outward form (Saturday) was done away with, but the central meaning of rest was not lost.
Lack of Sabbath Observance in the New Testament
            I wanted to add one more point.  This point by itself is not strong.  But when combined with the previous sections it provides additional weight to the idea that the Old Covenant Sabbath has been transformed.

            Despite the great theological weight the Old Testament places on the Sabbath, observance of the Old Testament Sabbath is insignificant for Christians in the New Testament. Following the resurrection of Christ, there is no reference to Christians observing the Sabbath. There are no commands to keep the Sabbath. Paul has numerous lists of sins (See Ephesians 4:17-32, I Timothy 1:8-11, II Timothy 3:1-5).  Sabbath breaking is never mentioned. The Sabbath simply evaporates from the Christian record, except as a day to evangelize the Jews. (See Acts 13:14, 16:13 and 18:4) It is hard to explain this other than that the New Testament Christians knew that the Resurrection of Christ changed the day of worship. 

From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: Part I~Jesus Rose on Sunday

I often get the question, “Why do we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?” Given the high view of the Sabbath in the Old Testament, one can see why people worry. The Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. You were punished for breaking it. So why all of the sudden it seems have we switched to Sunday? Was it some conspiracy by the early church? Was it a compromise with the ancient pagan religions? In a series of blog posts where I am going to try to map out why we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday. There are numerous questions that I need to be asked and answered as we study this topic. But my first post is pretty simple. I want to show that Jesus rose on Sunday and that the NT saints worshiped on Sunday. This may seem like an odd place to start. Why not start with the Sabbath itself? We will get into the Sabbath more in some subsequent blog posts. But most Christians understand the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath. The bigger question is how did we get to where Sunday was the accepted day of worship.

            The Bible does not give a specific passage showing the transition from Saturday to Sunday as the day of worship. However, several verses show why this transition was made in the New Testament. The primary evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday thus marking a new age in God’s covenant working with his people.  Here are the verses that show this:
Matthew 28:1
            Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
Mark 16:1-2
             Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.  Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.
Luke 23:56-24:1
            Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.  Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.
John 20:1
            Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
            The phrase translated “the first day of the week,” in the Greek means, “The first of (or from) the Sabbaths.”  The Jews did not have names for the days of the week. The only days they named were Saturday, which they called the “Sabbath” and Friday, which they called “Preparation Day.”  Because they had no name for the days of the week, they used a number to describe how far a day was from the Sabbath. So Sunday was the first day from the Sabbath, Monday was the second day from the Sabbath and so on.
            It is clear from the passages above, especially Luke 23:56-24:1, that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. The greatest event in the history of the world occurred on a Sunday.
            This same phrase “the first day of the week” is used a couple of other times in the Scriptures.  There is no reason to assume that these three verses are referring to anything other than Sunday. Here are those verses:
John 20:19
            Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.
Acts 20:7
            Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.
I Corinthians 16:2
            On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
            The last two passages show that Sunday was the day the Christians gathered to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (break bread), to hear preaching, and to collect money for the poor. Why meet on Sunday instead of Saturday? Why was Paul telling them to collect money on the first day of the week instead of the last? I think part of the answer is that the Resurrection took place on Sunday, thus marking off that day as unique and special. 
Here are two more passages that could indicate that the NT Christians worshiped on Sunday.
Acts 2:1
            When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
            Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath following Passover.  So it was always on a Sunday.
Revelation 1:10
             I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,

            The word “Lord’s” is a rare word, used only two times in the New Testament, here and in I Corinthians 11:20 where it refers to the Lord’s Supper.  It is hard to imagine that John had anything else in mind other than Sunday.  He uses the phrase assuming that his readers know what he means.  The Sabbath is not referred to as the Lord’s Day. It is called the Sabbath.  It is possible that this phrase refers to the Sabbath, but not likely. 

None of this evidence makes a water tight case for the transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day, but it gets us leaning a certain direction. In my next post I will look at the Old Testament teaching on the Sabbath. 

Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Part II

Last week I posted some ways to get ready for worship during the week. But what do you do if everything goes awry?

What to do if I have had a bad week?
            All of us, no matter how well we have prepared, can have a bad week or a bad Sunday morning. What do you do when the train jumps the tracks?
1.      First, ask yourself if this is a sin problem. Did you prepare as you ought to have? Were you lazy throughout the week and it caught up with you? Did you fail to discipline the children Monday through Saturday, but then tried to get them in line on Sunday morning? Did you stay up until 1 am Saturday night watching movies? It is a sin to be lazy in our preparation to enter God’s house. If you have been lazy, repent, turn to Christ and trust in him to forgive your sins. Then enter God’s house knowing that you are forgiven.  After worship, evaluate practical ways to be more diligent in your preparation.
2.      However, perhaps the week went awry, not from sin, but because of God’s Providence. God is not obligated to honor our preparations. You may have prepared like a Boy Scout, but God decided he had something else. Maybe a child was sick all night Saturday and you got no sleep. Or a pipe busted or a car broke down or a friend needed help late Saturday night. These things do happen. When God thwarts your preparations it is because he wants to teach you to depend upon him. When this happens maintain your joy, compensate where you can (have frozen pizzas on hand for Sunday lunch), and enter God’s house knowing that he is in control. Trust that he is good and brought this into your life because he loves you.  Then ask what he wants you to learn from this.

Looking Back
            One final note. When Sunday is over, evaluate how it went.  What could you change to come in more prepared? Husbands are you helping out as much as you can to get your family ready in body and soul?  Wives, did you decide your work week ended on Friday when your husband got off? Children, did you help mom and Dad enter God’s house with joy? Singles, did you spend Saturday night selfishly or looking with gladness to ascending to the throne of God? Did you respond to unexpected challenges and obstacles with grace and trust in God?  Did you prepare for the Lord’s Day with joy? Or were a grim taskmaster as you got ready? 
It is our great privilege to come before God each Sunday with his people. We cannot expect him to bless sloppiness. Nor can we expect him to be glorified if we are lazy in our preparation. We are coming before the King of Kings.  Let us prepare with discipline and zeal for that great honor. 

Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Part I

Worship is the grand event in the life of a Christian. Or at least it should be. Too often worship does not feel very grand. There are many reasons for this. However, one reason that is overlooked is our failure to prepare for worship. The Israelites were expected to be prepared for worship. We should prepare as well.  God does not want us to enter his presence with distracted minds, weary bodies, and cold hearts. He wants us to enter his house focused, rested, and with zeal. Our aim should be to bring him our best every Lord’s Day. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare for the Lord’s Service.
Preparation During the Week
  1. Make sure you are doing family worship and/or personal devotions. In worship we sit underneath God’s Word, sing, and pray.  If your week does not have these things in them then worship will seem foreign. God’s Word will seem like a strange tongue to you. The prayers in worship will bore you instead of excite you. It will be hard.  To come into God’s house prepared you  must spend time in the Word, prayer, and song throughout the week.
  2. Spend time during the week with members of your local church.  It is good to spend time with Christians from other churches. However, the priority should be on those from your local body. These are the ones you will worship with on Sunday. These are the ones who will sit under the word with you and pray with you.  These are the ones you will visit with following the service.  When you meet with them during the week, discuss the things of God. What are they learning from the Scriptures?  What do they remember about last week’s sermon?  What are they struggling with? Pray with them before you part ways. Then the bonds of Christian love will be strong when you meet before the Lord on Sunday.
  3. Confess your sins during the week.  One of the greatest hindrances to Spirit filled worship is the failure to confess our sins.   We must regularly bring our sins before the Lord pleading the shed blood of Christ.  We must also confess our sins to each other. Do not enter God’s house with broken relationships. If you have sinned against someone, go to your brother and get forgiveness.
  4. Work hard, so you will be ready for a day of rest. Remember we are to labor six days, not five. That doesn’t mean you have to work at your job six days. But it does mean Saturdays are not generally a day off.
Preparation on Saturday
 Preparing for Sunday is a key ingredient to coming into God’s house in the right frame of mind. Here are some practical things you can do on Saturday to get ready for Sunday.
1.      Get anything you need for church ready. This would include getting out church clothes, filling diaper bags, preparing food for a potluck, getting gas for the car, having your Bible out, etc.  Nothing dampens the drive to church like someone being mad because they couldn’t find the right pair of shoes. Try to make Sunday smooth by thinking ahead.
2.      If possible, plan and prepare for the Sunday meals on Saturday. For Sunday breakfast we do either cold cereal or hot breakfast that can be prepared Saturday night. For lunch on Sunday, plan a meal that you can prepare ahead of time. The point is to be free on Sunday to worship, fellowship, and rest. Husbands you should help your wife do some extra cooking on Saturday so she can rest on Sunday.
3.      Read over the sermon passage for the next day and pray for the worship service.  You will get more out of worship if you have thought about it prior to entering the sanctuary.
4.      Get to bed at a decent hour.  Four hours of sleep will not prepare you to feast on God’s Word.
Preparation on Sunday
1.      Get up at a decent hour. If you have an hour to get ready for worship you will probably not be prepared.
2.      Read some Scripture, sing, and pray before coming to church. Our family sings as we drive to worship. Here are some specific things you can pray for.  I am sure you can think of more.
a.       Pray for me as I preach.
b.      Pray for the hearts of the people to stirred to hear God’s Word and sing His praises.
c.       Pray for the Spirit to be working.
d.      Pray that God would bring new people into the church.
3.      Eat a good breakfast. Hunger is not a virtue during the sermon.
4.      Arrive early so you can greet the saints and settle your body and soul before the service begins. Coming in right at 10:30 or late will not help you worship.
5.      Use the restroom prior to worship.