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Calvin on the Sabbath

Calvin on the Sabbath

As I continue to read Progressive Covenantalism, I find myself enjoying the Biblical Theology that is on display in the essays. Though some of them are rushed presentations, the usual full Scripture scope on each issues has been refreshing.

One such essay was by Thomas Schreiner on the discontinuity of the Sabbath in the New Covenant. Schreiner's essay is one of the best examples a rushed essay, but he takes the time to address arguments from creation and the decalogue for Sabbath observance in the New Covenant. Schreiner states that "the Sabbath is not a creation ordinance" and "that God's creation rest and Sabbath rest point forward to the end-time rest" (188). Schreiner still suggests that "Christian, of course, are still required to be wise" concerning the celebration of the Lord's Day.

The distinction for Schreiner seems to be between wisdom and (covenant) obligation. He ties the observance of the Sabbath exclusively to the Mosaic Covenant and declares a discontinuity in the New Covenant. I'm confident most Presbyterians would disagree with him. But I do think Calvin's opinion in his Geneva Catechism comes closer to Schreiner than Westminster.

167 M. Does he command us to labor the six days that we may rest the seventh?
C. Not simply. Permitting six days to the labors of men, he excepts the seventh, that it may be devoted to rest.
168 M. But does he forbid us any labor on that day?
C. This commandment has a distinct and peculiar reason. In so far as the observation of rest was a part of the ceremonial law it was abrogated at the coming of Christ.

Calvin states that the rest of the Sabbath looked forward to the rest of Christ's finished work. As such it is ceremonial and may be dropped. Calvin answers that there are three reasons for the Sabbath: "To prefigure a spiritual rest. To preserve the polity of the Church. And for the relief of servants" (Q171). The "seventh day" ceases to be one day becoming a focus for every single day. So the first of Calvin's reasons is to "done continually...through the whole course of our life" (Q174). 

When Calvin answers that on "account of our weakness, one day is especially appointed" (Q178), he seems to be speaking from wisdom, not obligation. So what does Calvin see in the commandment for practical ecclesiology? 

179 M. What is the order to be observed on that day?
C. That the people assemble to hear the doctrine of Christ, to unite in the public prayers, and to offer the confession of their Faith.
183 M. What then of this commandment remains for us?
C. That we should not neglect the holy institutions, which support the spiritual government of the Church. But especially that we frequent the sacred meetings, for hearing the word of God, for celebrating the ordinances, and for joining in the public prayers, according to their appointment.

Calvin clearly supports a celebration of the Lord's Day. But he does not strongly tie it to the Sabbatarian principle of no work. The clarity of ceremonial abrogation is not entirely clarified in Calvin's work here (particularly Q181). It seems Calvin places "no work" in the ceremonial category in this catechism. This would put significant distance between him and modern Sabbatarians. 

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