Monday, October 26, 2009

Calvin on Lord's Day Observance

Yesterday I continued my ongoing sermon series on the book of Genesis.  My text was Genesis 2:1-3 and I titled the sermon, "And God Rested."  This turned out to be one of the harder sermons that I've had to write in recent memory.  I cannot say why with exact certainty but I spent a lot of time reading, pondering, and taking notes. 

This is a topic rarely discussed in the evangelical church -- to any who saw my sermon text and title in the paper they must've thought that my sermon would've certainly been a clunker.  Most would pass the text over saying that it is an oddity and not practical at all (no clear commandments to obey).  Yet those who think this way are wrong, really wrong.  How can they possibly understand Hebrews 4 without first understanding Genesis 2:1-3? 

My research revealed that there are differences of opinion in the reformed community about the Sabbath (sometimes called The Lord's Day).  Some pit the Heidelberg Catechism against the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Some pit Calvin against both of them.  I don't have time to speak to that controversy and besides, there are lots of folks who have already addressed it.* 

There is a point of common agreement among all three sources that is worth pondering.  It is made by John Calvin in his Institutes, Book 2, chapter 8, paragraph 28 (Ford Lewis Battles edition):

"First, under the repose of the seventh day the heavenly Lawgiver meant to represent to the people of Israel spiritual rest, in which believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them. Secondly, he meant that there was to be a stated day for them to assemble to hear the law and perform the rites, or at least to devote it particularly to meditation upon his works, and thus through this remembrance to be trained in piety. Thirdly, he resolved to give a day of rest to servants and those who are under the authority of others, in order that they should have some respite from toil." 

I told my congregation that if they remembered nothing more of my sermon they needed remember Calvin's first point -- believers should lay aside their own works on this day to allow God to work in them.  That one thought is often missed as people debate what can and cannot be done on this day.  We would be much further ahead by asking ourselves, "How does this activity ___________ (fill in the blank) contribute to God's working in me for His glory and my benefit?" 

* For further reading...
The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Heidelberg Catechism
Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark
Calvin's View of the Sabbath, Richard Gaffin
A Better Way, Michael Scott Horton

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