Following the rigid ceremonialism of the Roman Catholic Church, reformers such as Luther and Calvin were cautious about formalizing Christian worship to a ceremonial “first day of the week” type of worship. They did not disagree with the fact that the first day of the week was the Lord’s Day, and thought it to be both wise and expedient to set aside the day for formal corporate worship. However, they were careful to not elevate this time as a certain kind of ritualistic practice, reminiscent of the Roman Catholic rituals.1
In 1520, Martin Luther wrote one of his famous treatises, A Treatise on Good Works, and in it addressed several things regarding the Christian and the Decalogue. In his address regarding the fourth command of keeping the Sabbath Holy, Luther writes,
XVII. Spiritually understood, this Commandment has a yet far higher work, which embraces the whole nature of man. Here it must be known that in Hebrew "Sabbath" means "rest," because on the seventh day God rested and ceased from all His works, which He had made. Genesis ii. Therefore He commanded also that the seventh day should be kept holy and that we cease from our works which we do the other six days. This Sabbath has now for us been changed into the Sunday, and the other days are called work-days; the Sunday is called rest-day or holiday or holy day. And would to God that in Christendom there were no holiday except the Sunday; that the festivals of Our Lady and of the Saints were all transferred to Sunday; then would many evil vices be done away with through the labor of the work-days, and lands would not be so drained and impoverished. But now we are plagued with many holidays, to the destruction of souls, bodies and goods; of which matter, much might be said.2
Luther was keenly aware of the Roman influence still ever present in his day, but sought to distinguish Sunday above other days. Notice how he recognized that Sunday was different from the Sabbath. His thoughts continue by drawing out the notions that this rest on the Lord’s day included both bodily and spiritual rest and is worthy of great consideration by the Christian.
John Calvin preached a series of messages on the Ten Commandments. In his fifth sermon, regarding the fourth command, he says the following,
Nevertheless, we have to note that there is more and that indeed it would be a meager 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 our 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….
Moreover, let us realize that it is not only for coming to the sermon that the day of Sunday is instituted, but in order that we might devote all the rest of time to praising God…. [O]n other days, seeing that we are so occupied with our affairs, we are not as much open to serve God as on a day which is totally dedicated to this. Thus we ought to observe Sunday…in a way in which we are neither impeded by nor occupied with anything else, so that we might be able to extend all our senses to recognize the benefits and favors with which he has enlarged us…. Thus when people profane… the holy order which God has instituted to lead us to himself, why should they be astonished if all the rest of the week is degraded?3
No doubt, more examples could be given from the reformers in this regard, but these two examples are at least interesting to consider with regards to regaining a proper view of the Lord’s Day. They linked the significance of the Lord’s Day to both the principle and the precept of the Sabbath.
In the final post, I will seek to draw some conclusions and applications regarding the significance of the Lord’s Day to the believer today.
This post originally appeared here and is republished by permission from the author.
- “All of the Reformers insisted that Sunday observance should not be based on the OT Sabbath commandment or in any way connected with the Hebrew Sabbath. The observance of Sunday was to be maintained as a matter of expediency, for it afforded rest for the body and an opportunity for united worship of God, especially in view of the fact that the day had been previously chosen for these purposes.” – ZPEB 3:969. [↩]
- Luther, Martin, A Treatise on Good Works, Kindle Edition, p71-72 [↩]
files/Calvin%20on%20Sabbath. pdf accessed 9/3/2013 [↩]