Calvin on the Weekly Christian Sabbath

Calvin continues: "Another probable reason for the number [‘seven’] may be that the Lord intended that the Sabbath never should be completed before the arrival of the last[!] day. We here begin our blessed rest in Him, and daily make new progress in it. But because we must still wage an incessant warfare with the flesh, it shall not be consummated until the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the Lord’ (Isaiah 66:23); in other words, when God shall be ‘all in all’ (I Cor. 15:28). It may seem therefore that by the seventh day the Lord delineated to His people the future perfection of His Sabbath in the last day  that by continual meditation of the Sabbath, they might throughout their whole lives[!] aspire to this perfection."

Taking the above even more simply, Calvin next further explains4 "that the Lord appointed[!] a certain day[!] on which His people might be trained…to meditate constantly on the spiritual rest; and fixed upon the seventh…. Still, there can be no doubt that, on the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ceremonial part of the commandment was abolished…. Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with a superstitious observance of days."

Law-hating Antinomians have ignored all of the above – except the last two sentences. Severing those two sentences from the preceding passages, Antinomians have tried to represent Calvin as here teaching that the weekly sabbath was totally abolished at Calvary.

2 Inst. II:8:28-33. 3 Inst. II:8:30. 4 Inst. II:8:31.



However, law-hating Antinomians have here forgotten that Calvin loved God's Law! For the Genevan loved the non-superstitious way the Old Testament Hebrews saints had observed the weekly Sabbath. He hated only the superstitious ways in which the later Pharisees had endeavoured to keep it  after perverting it.

Accordingly, Antinomians have here overlooked Calvin's clear teaching that the sabbaticality of the Fourth Commandment  its 'every-sevendays-ness' as well as its 'restfulness' – is moral and unabolishable. They have confused this with Calvin's correct caveat that the 'Saturdayness' of Old Testament practice was not moral but ceremonial, and was indeed abolished at Calvary. In one word  they have wrongly concluded that at Calvary the entirety of the Fourth Commandment was abolished  together with the then-fulfilled 'shadows' of the various laws of Moses.

But even the 27-year-old Calvin protests against such a misinterpretation. For he next immediately proceeds5 to describe cases which "ought not to be classed with ancient shadows, but are adapted to every age." He insists that even after the Calvary fulfilment of the Old Testament Sabbath, and the abrogation of the Sabbath as held by the Jews on Saturdays, "there is still room among us [Christians] first to assemble on stated[!] days for the hearing of the Word” and “to give our servants and labourers relaxation from labour. It cannot be doubted that the Lord provided for both in the Commandment of the Sabbath”  “the Apostles[!] having retained[!] the Sabbath”[!] for the "poor of the Christian community."6 I Cor. 16:1-2 cf. Heb. 4:9-11 & 10:25 & 13:1520f.

Calvin elaborates on this. He does so, by quoting from "Deuteronomy in the following terms: 'The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant  [so] that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou’ (Deut. 5:14). Likewise in Exodus (23:12)  ‘that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid and the stranger may be refreshed’…. Who can deny  that both are equally[!] applicable to us[!] as to the Jews?"

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