Calvin on the Sabbath

Calvin expounds the 4th commandment in the sections II.viii.28-34 of the Institutes. That’s the funny commandment about keeping one day in seven as holy to the LORD. Funny, because very few Christians I have met take it seriously, especially if they are a) of a dispy background, or b) liberal, and basically don’t care.

The WCF is pretty clear about the Sabbath in Chapter 21.7:

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week, and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

It teaches clearly that the difference between the Sabbath in the OT and the NT is simply the day on which it is observed. The reason for this

  • “the law of nature” (which, I guess, means rooted in the order of Creation), and
  • that the Decalogue is binds “all men in all ages”.

Seems reasonable to me.

Imagine my surprise, then, that Calvin does not seem to agree, at least not fully. He sees much greater differences than simply the day of the week. Calvin notes three reasons for the Sabbath in the OT:

  1. It represented spiritual rest for the people of God, i.e. it pointed forward to a future rest. The day was not just for its own sake.
  2. In order that the people of God may rest, meditate and assemble for worship.
  3. That servants and employees may rest.

Calvin makes a big deal out of the fact that the shadows are left behind, referencing Colossians 2:16,17. The fulfilment is in Christ. Thus the reality of the Sabbath day spreads over the whole week. His conclusion is that we must shun the superstition of days, which the Jews were under.

However, then Calvin sees that there is a need still to give servants and employees rest, there is still a need for the assembly of the saints, and for this to be done decently and in order, a day must be set apart. He seems to acknowledge that to meet every day would be desirable if it were practical, but isn’t usually. These pragmatic reasons are not to be confused with the almost superstitious reverence for a particular day in the OT. The difference was to be marked by the change of day. (Interestingly, Calvin suggests that superstitions about the Lord’s Day were being imposed in the Catholic Church too.)

Thus it seems that in Calvin’s mind there appeared to be much more discontinuity in the Sabbath teaching than there was in the later Presbyterians of the UK.

Can anyone shed some light on this for me? It is something I need to investigate more…

Calvin on the Sabbath

The Problem with Reading

Over a year ago I began to read Calvin’s Institutes. I decided that the only way to make progress was to read for 15-20 minutes per day. (Stuart Olyott once said that he only knew two people who had read the complete works of John Owen, and they had done so by this method. I decided to try out the method.) Unfortunately it has been fitful. I have always been a slow reader and I am a bit of a dreamer. If an idea comes up in a book, I often wander off into the distance with it, coming back much later to resume reading. Sometimes this is fruitful. More often than not is much more like a child chasing soap bubbles or dandelion seeds in the Summer.

The language of Calvin is slightly strange and it takes time to adjust, When I started reading it would take almost 3 minutes to get through a page (including those little bubble-chasing moments). So, in 15 minutes, a grand total of 5 pages would be covered. Given that the institutes is some 1600 pages, this means 320 days to read them. Not promising. In addition, I find that it is difficult to get into Calvin’s way of thinking (i.e. not just his style) in such a short time. It’s no surprise then that my daily dose of Calvin disappeared.

Since my exams have finished I have had some more time to devote to reading, an exercise I consider essential to Christian ministry, so I have resumed the Institutes. Two practical steps have made a difference:

  1. I can find an hour to read.
  2. I discovered that if I use the stopwatch/lap-timer function on my mobile phone, I can monitor the progress I am making. I can sit holding the top of it between my index and middle fingers (it’s one of these chocolate-bar rather than clam-shell shaped ones) while holding the book with both hands, and flip the lap-time button with my thumb when I turn the page.

With this method I can see how long a page is taking. As a result I have managed to get a Calvin-page down to 1m40s (making ~35 pages an hour). I also know from the numbers when my concentration is drifting. It is remarkable how time-consuming and wasteful it is! I have also noticed that the main reason my reading has been slow has been the tendency to skip back over words and phrases that I did not understand. This is a fruit of lack of concentration. I now major on trying to avoid skipping.

So, 1150 pages to go. What’s that? 33 days? We’ll see.

The Problem with Reading

Quite a Business Man

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has died. At the end of this BBC article are these two paragraphs:

The monarch’s decision in 1990 to invite American forces into Saudi Arabia after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was heavily criticised within the country.

Many say it contributed to the rise of al-Qaeda whose leader, Osama bin Laden, is a Saudi-born businessman.

I don’t know about you, but I find the description ‘business man’ and the verb ‘is’ to grate just a little.

Quite a Business Man