Friday, October 05, 2007

Calvin and the Sabbath

In a recent conversation with friend and DTS student Jared on my post below, I mentioned Calvin's view on the Sabbath. I decided that it might be helpful to some to offer some insight into Calvin's view on this. After doing my master's project (this is the alternative to a thesis at DTS) on Calvin's view of the Sabbath, I was struck by just how difficult it was to really come to an adequate understanding of what Calvin's saying. I based my interpretation of his view on the Institutes. While I was aware of his commentaries, I chose not to interact in depth with them for a very simple reason. The Institutes, in their final edition, are the result of many years of editing and reworking on the part of Calvin. He only finished the final edition a relatively short time before his death. So what we have in the Institutes is as close to a perfect distillation of Calvin's thought as we could possibly hope to get. We also have this in Latin as well as French, making it a very solid text for translation and interpretation. In contrast, Calvin's commentaries are essentially transcriptions of his sermons. They were preached one time and then with only minor editing placed into circulation, some of them many years before his death. So it is to the Institutes that we look in this case. And one more note on this, despite the many years of adding material and reorganizing it and editing and reworking it, Calvin's comments regarding the 4th commandment remained essentially unchanged. This leads us to believe that Calvin held his view in tact for the duration of his ministry with very little wavering.

We find Calvin's comments collected in Book II, Chapter VIII, Sections 28-34. This is Calvin's interpretation and explanation of the 4th commandment. I summarize Calvin's view this way:

The Fourth Commandment Under Moses:
I. Condition 1
A. Typological (Outward) Observance (CEREMONIAL)
B. Real (Inward) Observance (UNREALIZED)
II. Condition 2
III. Condition 3

The Fourth Commandment In Christ:
I. Condition 1
A. Typological (Outward) Observance (ABROGATED)
B. Real (Inward) Observance (REALIZED)
II. Condition 2
III. Condition 3

Calvin summarized the Sabbath with three conditions for observance in Section 28. First, God meant, through their physical rest, to represent to them the spiritual rest offered in Christ. The second condition was that they set this day aside in order to be trained in piety. By this, Calvin essentially means worship which consists of preaching and the sacraments. The third condition is that they should provide a day of rest to those under them, demonstrating the principle of rest being offered by God to they themselves.

With these three in mind, Calvin camps out on condition 1. Condition two will only be addressed really with regard to the day on which it should be observed. And condition three receives virtually no attention at all. We are still to gather for worship and be instructed in piety. We are still to be careful not to "inhumanly oppress those subject to us." This much becomes obvious not only in a reading of the sections together, but also in a reading of Calvin's summary in Section 34. Calvin, then, spends the bulk of these sections addressing the nature of the first condition.

I'm going to stop here for a bit. I'll post the remainder later today.

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