By Francis Turretin in Institutes of Elenctic Theology
Whether the first institution of the Sabbath was in the fourth commandment; and whether the commandment is partly moral, partly ceremonial. The former we deny; the latter we affirm.
Etymology of the word “Sabbath.”
I. For the easier understanding of the most vexed question concerning the Sabbath, some things must be premised—both concerning the etymology of the word and concerning its various significations. The true derivation of the word (for there is no necessity for mentioning the worthless and absurd conjectures of many) is from the verb shbhth (i.e., “to cease” or “to rest”), which relates either to the existence of a thing, when it ceases to be and fails (as is said of the manna [Jos. 5:12] and of joy [Is. 24:8]) or to the operation of an agent when he ceases to work and is put for “he rested” and “stopped working.” This is the proper signification in Gen. 2:3 when God is said to have blessed the seventh day because “in it” (bhv shbhth) “he had rested.” Therefore that day is called shbhth and yvm shbhth. The Greeks render it by pauein, anapauein and katapauein; the noun shbhth by anapausin (as Josephus, Against Apion 2.27 [Loeb, 1:302–3], and the Septuagint frequently do also). Otherwise they retain the Hebrew word, as also the New Testament writers, who abstained from a translation of it as a word well known and so distinguish it from a profane and common rest (as was the case with many other Hebrew words, “Hosanna,” “Pascha,” “Immanuel,” etc.).
Its manifold significations.
II. The use and the meaning of the word is manifold. The peculiar and primary (upon which all the others depend and which is understood here) is that by which it is put for each seventh day of the week and that too from the event—God after finishing the creation of things ceased from the creation of new species and determined that this should be set apart for the rest of man afterwards in memory of the thing; so that not only in imitation of God should they rest on it from bodily and secular works, but also employ it for divine worship. Accordingly for the same reason all the solemn feasts of the Jews were designated by the name “Sabbath,” although they did not fall upon the seventh day (Lev. 23:32 and elsewhere), because they were kept almost in the same manner as the weekly Sabbath. Third, the first and last day of each festival (which lasted many days) is called a Sabbath because both were equally solemn. Here belongs the “second Sabbath after the first (deuteroprōton)” (mentioned in Lk. 6:1), so called either because it followed next after the feast of the Passover (which is the first from the second [apo tēs deuteras prōton] in the computation of Pentecost, as the great Scaliger holds); or because it was the last day of the feast (which as it was in order the posterior and second Sabbath, so in dignity it was equally the first or great Sabbath as the first day of the feast, which was solemn on account of the public assembly congregated on it; as if you should call it the first secondarily repeated). The latter is more agreeable to Beza and others. Fourth, the Sabbath is also taken synecdochically for the week itself, which the seventh day concluded: “I fast twice (nēsteuō dis tou sabbatou) in the week” (Lk. 18:12); also mia sabbatōn (1 Cor. 16:2) is put for the first day of the week.
A threefold Sabbath: temporal, spiritual and eternal.
III. Again a threefold Sabbath is mentioned in the Scriptures: temporal, spiritual and eternal or heavenly. The temporal is that which God prescribed to the Old Testament believers, which again was either annual (viz., each seventh year) in which he ordered the Israelites to leave the land uncultivated that it might have its own rest also (Lev. 25:2) and the forty-ninth year, which was the year of Jubilee (which was a Sabbath of seventh years, Lev. 25:8); or monthly, of the new moon; or of each first day; or weekly, of which we speak here. (2) The spiritual consists in that peace of conscience enjoyed by believers and cessation from sinful works which they ought to seek after through the whole course of their lives (which is referred to in Heb. 4:1, 3). (3) The eternal and heavenly is that by which, being received into heaven most perfectly freed both from sin and from the labors and troubles of this life, we rest eternally in God: “There remaineth a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9, viz., a heavenly rest under which eternal happiness is usually shadowed forth).
First question: concerning the origin of the Sabbath.
IV. Two things particularly are sought concerning the Sabbath which are embraced under this question: (1) concerning its first origin or institution; (2) concerning its nature and use, or what is the nature of its obligation, moral or ceremonial? Both these are the subjects of controversy among divines and they dispute with great zeal even in our day. We will set forth our own opinion here in accordance with the judgment of the more learned.
Statement of the question.
V. As to the former, the question does not concern the author of the Sabbath, for all agree in referring its institution to God alone; rather it concerns the first beginning and origin of this institution—whether we must trace it back to the very cradle of the world or refer it to the promulgation of the law on Mount Sinai. Most of the Reformed embrace the former opinion (see a list of them in Walaeus and Rivet); some others follow the latter opinion. Now although each is supported by its own reasons (not to be despised) and the dissent is not fundamental, still we judge the first to be the truer and more suitable to the words of Scripture and to it we adhere, relying principally upon the following argument.
The institution of the Sabbath before the law is proved: (1) from Gen. 2:3.
VI. First, God is said immediately after the end of creation to have blessed and sanctified the seventh day: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). These words are too clear to be turned by any distinction to the support of the contrary opinion. For God cannot be said to have blessed the seventh day and sanctified it unless by the institution of the Sabbath. That day was blessed for no other end than that it might be consecrated to the worship of God in memory of the divine rest from the works of creation. Therefore God is said to have blessed and sanctified it because by sanctifying he blessed it, separating it from secular and common use and dedicating it to divine worship; so that afterwards it might be sanctified by men in the public exercises of piety and the solemn worship of God.
VII. Of no force are the following objections. (1) This is said proleptically by Moses to show the equity, not the beginning of the command; so that God may be said to have sanctified this day, not when he ceased from his works, but when he gave the manna or when he delivered the law by Moses. We answer that although the Scriptures sometimes use a prolepsis, we are never to have recourse to it unless driven by necessity. But here there is no necessity for a prolepsis and many reasons stand in the way of its adoption. First, as God is said to have rested from his works on this seventh day properly and historically (not proleptically), so also to have blessed and sanctified it. These things are proposed in the same connection and ought to be understood concerning the same seventh day of creation; not of another similar day (which also the thrice repeated demonstrative article h indicates). Second, on the supposition of a prolepsis, the sense of the words of Moses will be: God, after the six days’ work was finished, rested on the seventh day; therefore after the lapse of two thousand four hundred and fifty-three years, he blessed a similar day and sanctified it to sacred uses. Everyone sees this to be harsh and forced. Third, no solid reason can be adduced why Moses in a simple narration of history or of events (two thousand years before they occurred) determined to insert something which took place only in his own time. It would plainly tend to obscure rather than explain the history he was composing, not even the slightest intimation of such a prolepsis being introduced.
VIII. Objection two: that sanctification and blessing are to be understood with regard to the intention and destination, not with regard to the execution. We answer that he is said to have blessed the day in the same way that he rested upon it. Now he did not rest only in intention because he intended to do it, but really because he ceased from his works. (2) The destination was not then at length made on this day, but from eternity. Thus God might be said to have sanctified the day of the Passover and Pentecost because he then intended to sanctify them. Objection three: “Although God then blessed the seventh day, it does not follow that he then enjoined the observance of it upon Adam” for God does not forthwith command us to keep those things which he blesses. To bless and to sanctify are the acts of God, not ours; while a precept pertains to the actions of men. We answer that since blessing and sanctification are not done with respect to God, but to man, it is hence plain that God for no other end sanctified that day (i.e., separated it from a common and dedicated it to sacred use) than that it might be religiously observed by man.
2. From Ex. 16:23, 25.
IX. Second, in Ex. 16:23 mention is made of the Sabbath as already known and observed among the Israelites in the giving of the manna before the promulgation of the law. They are ordered to gather a double quantity on the sixth day, to support them on the sixth and on the seventh days, which day was the Sabbath of the Lord. “This is that which the Lord hath said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake today”; and “six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none” (v. 26); and “See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place” (viz., to gather manna) “on the sabbath. So the people rested on the seventh day” (v. 29, 30*). This could not have been said unless the Sabbath had already been instituted and commanded by God. Nor ought it to be objected that it was not instituted until just when the Lord said “tomorrow is the Sabbath.” In whatever way it is read, whether tomorrow “is” (as most of the interpreters have it) or tomorrow “will be” (in the future), neither of which occurs in the Hebrew, this does not denote the first institution of the Sabbath, but only its confirmation and an exhortation to observe it properly. Nor ought the institution of so solemn a day to have been so obscurely made, but ought to have had also a solemn and clear declaration of the divine command.
3. From Ex. 20:8.
X. Third, the words of the fourth commandment (“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”) plainly imply that this law was not then given for the first time, but only renewed after it had fallen as it were into desuetude, that they should exercise particular care in this matter and not afterwards be unmindful of this command (as they had been before). The following words confirm this view where he repeats the reason for its institution adduced in Gen. 2:2, 3 concerning the rest of God and the blessing and sanctification of the seventh day (which sufficiently indicates that the Sabbath was then instituted when that reason applied). Hence Calvin says, “From this passage it is elicited by probable conjecture that the sanctification of the Sabbath was prior to the law. Certainly what Moses had narrated before (that they were forbidden to gather manna on the seventh day) seems to have been taken from a received knowledge and use. And since God gave to the saints the rite of sacrifice, it is not credible that the observance of the Sabbath was omitted” (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses , 2:439–40 on Ex. 20:11).
4. From Heb. 4:3, 4.
XI. Fourth, from Heb. 4:3, 4 where the apostle, about to prove that there remains a Sabbatism (i.e., a rest for the people of God into which believers will enter by faith as unbelievers will be excluded from it on account of unbelief), shows that the words of Ps. 95:11 (which he quotes: “As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest”) must necessarily be referred to this. Since the Scriptures speak of only three Sabbatisms of God—the first, after the work of creation; the second, after the introduction of his people into the land of Canaan; the third, as to the spiritual and eternal rest of believers and the blessed—the words of David cannot be referred either to the first rest of God (into which he entered from the beginning and which he prescribed to men by his example) or to the second (which he procured for them by the introduction of his people into the land of Canaan under Joshua) because both have long ago passed by. They must necessarily be understood of that third rest promised to believers in the gospel through grace and to the saints in heaven through glory. Thus the sense of the words (otherwise involved) is plain: “For we who believe,” says he, “enter into the rest of God, as if he had said, and so have I sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest” (for although the words of the psalm are threatening, yet they include a promise by way of consequent; as in the commands of God, every command includes a prohibition and every prohibition a command). To prevent anyone from saying that these words should be referred either to the rest of God (which he took after the work of creation in Gen. 2:3), he adds kaitoi ergōn (“although the works were finished from the foundation of the world”) to show that this could not be understood of the rest of which Moses speaks in the same place (because it had long ago passed by). That it could not be understood of the rest of Canaan, he subjoins, “For if Joshua had given them rest” (to wit, that true and saving rest in which happiness consists) “then he would not afterward have spoken of another day” (v. 8). Hence he concludes in v. 9, “There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God” (i.e., a rest differing from the former ones).
XII. It cannot be objected here that the rest of which the apostle speaks in vv. 3 and 4 has nothing in common with the Sabbath instituted by God because it must be understood of the rest of God (i.e., peculiar to him and not of men). The rest of God does not exclude, but necessarily includes in this passage the rest or Sabbath of men. For no reason can be assigned why the apostle should except that rest from the laying of the foundations of the world, if it pertained in no manner to men and if under the rest of God he did not understand that which he had by his own example prescribed to men. (2) If the Sabbath of men is not here included, it will follow that Paul omitted the Jewish Sabbath (which he could not do without prejudice to the reasoning he employed) because it might have been objected to him that there was another Sabbath besides that on which God rested and that which the Israelites enjoyed after the possession of Canaan (to wit, the ordinary weekly Sabbath).
5. From the religion of the fathers.
XIII. Fifth, the piety and religion of the ancient fathers confirm this very thing. Since it is of natural and perpetual right that certain times should be set apart for the solemn worship of God, Adam and the holy patriarchs must have had some sacred and stated days in which to worship God and remember his blessings in the creation of heaven and earth. And if there were then sacred days, it is right to suppose that this day instituted by God was observed, rather than some other days of which Scripture says nothing. To no purpose is the objection that they might have had other days besides this day. For since this is nowhere said, it is rejected just as easily as it is asserted. Nor without temerity are other times imagined which are nowhere mentioned; and that time passed by of whose sanctification such express mention is made before the law.
6. From the traces of a Sabbath among the Gentiles.
XIV. Sixth, not obscure monuments are extant among the heathen, both of the number seven in general as sacred and of the recurring seventh day held sacred among them. This seems not so much to have been drawn from the custom of the Jews (whose religion was despised by the Gentiles) as received from the tradition handed down from their fathers (patroparadotō) and conveyed to them by long use. Hence Clement of Alexandria: “Not only the Hebrews, but also the Greeks hold each seventh day to be sacred” (alla kai tēn hebdomēn hieran, ou monon hoi Hebraioi, alla kai hoi Hellēnes isasi, Stromata 5.14 [ANF 2:469; PG 9.161–62]). He proves this from Hesiod, Homer, Linus and Callimachus, by whom the seventh day (hebdomē) is called the “sacred day” (hieron ēmar). By Philo, it is called the “public feast” (heortē pandēmos) belonging to all the Gentiles equally (Flaccus 14  [Loeb, 9:366–67]). Josephus says, “There is no city anywhere of the Greeks nor of the barbarians, to which the observance of the seventh day, in which we rest, has not reached” (Against Apion 2.282 [Loeb, 1:404–7]). Saturday is called “the sacred day” by Tibullus (Tibullus 1.3*.18 [Loeb, 206–7]; cf. more authorities in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel 13.13.677c [ed. E.H. Gifford], 2:732).
XV. Although God is said to have made known the command concerning the Sabbath through Moses (an emphatic arresting of attention being premised, Ex. 16:29; 31:13; Ezk. 20:12; Neh. 9:14), it does not follow that it had not already been instituted from the beginning. Not only what is at first instituted is said to be given, but also what is renewed (if perchance it has been obliterated or neglected) or what is clearly and distinctly promulgated in a new and more remarkable manner. Thus in Ps. 147:19, God is said to have given his statues and his judgments unto Israel and not to have dealt so with any nation; not absolutely and simply because the Gentiles bear the work of the law written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15), but relatively and comparatively with respect to the revelation made in his word. The Sabbath is said to have been made known in the same way as the law and the precepts and statutes (which are said to have been commanded by Moses). These are connected together in Neh. 9:14. Yet no one can deny that that law (to wit, the moral law) had been given before as also the statutes and various ceremonial precepts in the institution of sacrifices and of circumcision.
XVI. Things given commonly to all may be given specially to certain ones, with an emphatic distinction (and indeed as a sign of the sanctification of them). If these had been given at first in common and by negligence omitted or forgotten, they were afterwards restored to particular persons and commended for special reasons (as is the case here). Although therefore the Sabbath in its first institution had uses common to all and a general design (namely to celebrate the memory of the creation, contemplating the works of God and the performance of public worship of God), it nevertheless had special ends with respect to the Israelites. Just as the rainbow (which was in other respects a natural sign) was made the sacramental sign of a thing which it had not before indicated (although it had existed). Thus what had been the sign of one blessing could (when blessed and instituted anew) be a special sign to those to whom the blessing had been enlarged. In this sense, the Sabbath is said to have been given to the Israelites as a special sign that they might be separated from other nations (Ex. 31:13; Ezk. 20:12), especially from the Egyptians, by a true worship of God (which otherwise was a common sign).
XVII. Although upright and holy Adam in his state of innocence ought every day to have worshipped God and contemplated his works, still this would not have prevented his having a certain stated time for the solemn and public worship of God—by ceasing, not indeed from works of righteousness and praise (which ought to have been continual), but from his daily labors in cultivating paradise (to which he was bound also to apply himself according to the command of God—although without weariness and fatigue, as was afterwards the case on account of sin).
XVIII. Although in the life of the patriarchs no express mention is made of a Sabbath kept by them, it does not follow that it was not at all known or observed by them. Theirs is a compendious narrative in which it is not necessary that all things pertaining to them should be found. It was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to touch upon those things which bore upon his purpose (namely, to confirm the promises made to them concerning the blessed seed, and to weave together their genealogy to exhibit the truth of history). So no mention is made of the Sabbath observed in the time of the Judges and of Samuel. But the inference would be false that it was not observed. (2) We do not read of the patriarchs observing any stated times for the public worship of God. Yet their piety forbids our doubting that they had certain sacred and fixed days consecrated to the worship of God. Now no other days could have been more fit than the seventh day of the week, which for a peculiar reason had been blessed and sanctified by God for the rest of man like the rest of God.
The second question, concerning the morality of the Sabbath.
XIX. The second question treats of the morality of the Sabbath—whether the fourth commandment, sanctioning the sanctification of the Sabbath, is moral and perpetual; or only ceremonial and constituted for a certain time. In reference to this, there are three principal opinions of theologians—two extreme and a third between the two. The first is that the command is simply moral and perpetual (held by the Jews). With them agreed the old Ebionites, Cerinthians, Apollinarians and others (called by the common name of Sabbatarians), who maintained that the seventh day ought to be kept sacred now as well as formerly. Eusebius mentions that they were condemned for heresy by the ancient church (Ecclesiastical History 3.27, 28* [FC 19:184–86]). They do not differ from those, who even now in our day hold that this precept is absolutely moral as the other precepts of the moral law and thus is of perpetual observance. The second asserts that it is merely ceremonial and so entirely abrogated by Christ. This was the opinion of the ancient Manichaeans and of the Anabaptists and Socinians of the present day (who hold that it was so abrogated as to pertain in no way to Christians). The Racovian Catechism answers: “It was taken away under the New Testament as other ceremonies” (Racovian Catechism , p. 219). And Volkelius: “The fourth precept of the decalogue concerning the Sabbath, formerly given to the Israelites, is ceremonial, not moral, and moreover has nothing to do with the discipline of Christ” (De vera Religione 4.14 , p. 250). Others also are pleased with this opinion. The third (and mean) holds this precept to be mixed (i.e., partly moral, partly ceremonial; moral as to substance [viz., the necessity of divine worship on a stated and certain time], but ceremonial as to circumstance [viz., the special determination of the seventh day]). This is the opinion of the orthodox, and we will demonstrate its truth by three propositions.
First proposition: the fourth precept is not wholly moral.
XX. First, the fourth precept is not in all its parts moral and perpetual. It is proved both against the Jews and the Christians who urge its absolute morality still. First, against the Jews, from the nature of moral things: moral precepts strictly so called belong to the law of nature conformed to the image of God and to the notions of good and evil, virtue and vice (which have their origin in nature itself and by themselves conduce to good morals and so are of eternal and immutable right). Such, however, is not the determination of the seventh day, since it (whether considered simply [haplōs] in itself) is neither good nor holy; or comparatively is no better than the determination of another day, except on account of the authority alone of the one commanding. (2) From the precept itself (in which is prescribed the determination of public worship to the seventh day, which being a mere circumstance of time is for that reason to be considered mutable, and so ceremonial and positive, not moral). (3) From the design of the precept, for among other ends it also had the relation of a sign and type (which therefore ought to be abrogated in their own time). A sign when it is called a sign of the covenant made between God and the Israelites (Ex. 31:13; Ezk. 20:12, 20); a sign not indicative only of present grace, but also sealing future grace; not only that Jehovah is the God of the Jews, but also the God sanctifying them. A type because it is called with other ceremonies “a shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:16, 17) (to wit, shadowing the twofold rest which believers obtain in Christ). This rest is first spiritual both in quiet of conscience from the terror of divine wrath and in cessation from our evil works (referred to in Mt. 11:28; Rom. 5:1; Heb. 4:3; Is. 58:13, 14). Hence the spiritual worship of the New Testament is wont to be described in the style of the Holy Spirit (who loves to express as far as possible the mysteries of the gospel in legal terms) by the celebration of the Sabbath (Is. 56:2; 66:23). Next this rest is celestial (to wit, a rest not only from all sin, but also from all the toils and miseries of this life, Ps. 95:11; Heb. 4:10; Rev. 14:13). (4) Sabbaths are frequently enumerated by the prophets among the other festivals and ceremonies of the Jews (which, however, were of mere ceremonial and positive right and observed only from command and on account of it). Therefore the precept concerning the Sabbath also is related to them as to some part of it.
XXI. Second, against the Christians: (1) because all ceremonies and types as such were taken away by Christ; therefore also that which is ceremonial in the Sabbath. And that there is some such thing in it Christ testifies when he reckons it in the same class with other legal ceremonies, such as the institution of the showbread and the service (leitourgia) of the priests in the temple (Mt. 12:3–5). In the same passage, the Sabbath is included by him under the term “sacrifice” and that too of “sacrifice” as contradistinguished from “mercy” (Mt. 12:7, 8). (2) Our Lord testifies, “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, therefore, the son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27, 28). Thus its sanction is of a different nature from the other precepts, subject even to the Son of man who has the power to abrogate it with respect to that which is merely positive (which cannot be said of the others). (3) The apostle expressly declares this when he says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect to an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16, 17). Here (a) he connects the observance of Sabbaths with other ceremonials as something of the same kind with the distinction of food, of holydays and new moons. (b) He calls all these “a shadow of things to come (skian tōn mellontōn)” where the words ha esti are not so much diacritical (diakritika) as etiological (aitiologika), giving the reason why the Sabbaths should no longer be kept, because “they are a shadow of things to come.” (c) He opposes Christ to them as the body in whom and by whom the thing signified was accomplished. In vain is the reply that weekly Sabbaths are not meant, but the various others prevailing among the Jews (which were typical).  What ought to be proved is taken for granted. The words of the apostle do not admit it because, since they are general and treat of Sabbaths in the plural without any limitation, they ought also to be extended to all; nor does it become us to restrict what the apostle has not restricted.  Festivals are here distinguished from Sabbaths.  The Sabbaths are specially meant (which were sanctioned by the fourth commandment) which frequently recurred and whose observance the Jews and Sabbatarians among the primitive Christians insisted upon. Still, however, it would be wrong to infer that the Sabbath is therefore merely ceremonial, as those who are of the opposite opinion thence argue (because what is ceremonial in a certain respect ought not immediately and so mutably to be such in all its parts, as will hereafter be proved more fully). (4) From an absurdity: if this precept is in all its parts moral and perpetual, then we are still at this time (under the New Testament) bound to the particular observance of the seventh day, nor could a transference of it have been made to the Lord’s day.
Sources of explanation.
XXII. Although the command concerning the Sabbath is contained in the decalogue, it does not follow that it is in all its parts moral. The decalogue is not only a compendium of the moral law, but in it is given the foundation of the whole Mosaic Law (whose parts were three: moral, ceremonial and forensic). Hence besides the moral law (which is principally delivered here), there is given also the root of all the ceremonies (of which the divine worship of that time consisted) in the first table, as in the second the foundation of the Jewish polity and its judicial laws. We must therefore distinguish here between the thing commanded and the circumstance of the thing: the thing commanded is moral; the circumstance of the thing, however, is ceremonial (or at least merely positive).
XXIII. The Sabbath is called “a perpetual covenant” (bryth ‘vlm, Ex. 31:16, 17), not by reason of absolute perpetuity, but as comparative and periodic on account of its continual observance under the Old Testament. The word ‘vlm is often used for a remarkable duration, but limited according to the nature of the thing. In this sense, it is applied to circumcision (Gen. 17:13), to the showbread (Lev. 24:8), to the offerings of the first fruits (Num. 18:19), to the priesthood (Num. 28:23); and everywhere the word ‘vlm is used for the time of the legal economy up to the Messiah. It is used even for a shorter duration, for instance, for the time of Jubilee. The servant, it is said, “shall serve forever” (Ex. 21:6, that is, unto the Jubilee).
XXIV. From the fact that the law concerning the Sabbath was given before the fall (that that day might be sanctified by man after the example of God), it is well inferred that it is moral as to a principal part, but it does not immediately follow that it is such absolutely and simply. Not whatever God commanded or forbade Adam is of itself and in itself morally good and evil (which is evident even from the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).
XXV. The immutability of God and the constancy of his decrees makes those things which are of the natural right of God (or were decreed by him forever) to be also perpetual and unchangeable; but there is not the same reason for those things which are of positive right and were instituted only for a certain time (such as was the Mosaic Sabbath as to the circumstance of time and the mode of observation prescribed to the Jews).
Second proposition: the fourth precept is not merely ceremonial.
XXVI. Second proposition: the fourth precept is not in every part ceremonial. The reasons are: (1) it is a precept of the decalogue, in which the moral law is contained; therefore no precept of it is merely ceremonial. (2) Its end is moral, both the first (viz., the public and stated worship of God consisting in the consideration and contemplation of his works; also in the public exercises of religion, which cannot be accomplished without the determination of a certain stated and fixed day devoted to that worship) and the subordinate (to wit, the cessation from servile work for the relaxation of servants and of brutes). (3) The duty prescribed is moral (to wit, the sanctification of the Sabbath by separating that day from others, and consecrating it to sacred uses—namely, the exercises of piety and worship towards God and of love towards our neighbor). (4) The reason and motive of the precept from the example of God proposed to us for imitation (to wit, his rest on that day and sanctifying it is moral; we therefore cannot be conformed to it except by a performance of the moral duty answering to it).
XXVII. (5) The nature of the precept concerns things which become a rational nature as such and are agreeable to natural principles and right reason. For as a rational creature is bound to worship God (not only with the internal service of the soul, but also external of the body; not only private, but also public in the communion of saints), so right reason teaches that nothing is more suitable than to consecrate some stated and fixed time in a certain convenient cycle for publicly worshipping and celebrating the praises of God, who has gratuitously given our being to us, all that we possess and the whole of time itself. (6) We never read of the abrogation of this precept in the New Testament. Since Christ confirmed the whole moral law as pertaining to Christians and binding them at all times, by this very thing he should be considered to have confirmed this precept also. And since certain days have always been sanctified and devoted by the Christian church to public assemblies and the solemn worship of God, it is abundantly evident from this that the observance of this precept should be considered as moral and of perpetual right. Otherwise if the precept were merely moral, it would not be lawful now to observe any Sabbath, no more than to introduce by the back door other ceremonies which God has abrogated under the New Testament (and everyone sees how absurd this is).
Sources of explanation.
XXVIII. The precept concerning the Sabbath ought to be viewed in two ways: either absolutely and in itself (as to the substance of the command); or relatively (as to the Mosaic economy of the Old Testament and as to the precise circumstance of time; also the special reasons and ends for which it was given to the Israelites). Although in this latter respect it may be called a “sign” of the particular dispensation of that covenant (Ex. 31:13; Ezk. 20:12) and thus may have something ceremonial, it does not follow that it is a mere ceremony or that the precept considered in itself pertained only to that economy.
XXIX. Although the command concerning the particular place of worship was ceremonial, it does not follow that the command concerning the particular time is equally ceremonial, for there is here a manifold difference between the place and the time. (1) Mention is made in the decalogue of the observance of time, but not of a determination of place; therefore the circumstances of religion are not equal. (2) The necessity and utility of a certain place for worship is only physical and accidental to religion. It has nothing to do with the promotion of religion whether God is worshipped in an open place or in a church or underground or in a public or private place. But the necessity of the time, whether indeterminate or determinate, is far greater because it is moral and theological (whether we speak separately of the whole portion or the duration or the frequency, and much more if we speak of these together). There is no doubt that the greater portion of time (either as to duration or as to frequency or as to both) in the exercises of religion conduces to progress in piety and that he is more pleasing and acceptable to God who spends such time in sacred worship, than he who spends time rarely and briefly (provided other things are equal). (3) The determination of a time for sacred exercises is necessary because it is impossible that at one and the same time we can attend to worldly affairs and at the same time worship God. Therefore, in order that these may not hinder us from being free for divine worship as long and as often as it is required, such a determination is absolutely demanded. Yet nothing like this can be said of the place because in one and the same place (namely at different times), we can worship God and carry on worldly business. The determination of the place being made, it is not necessary that worship should be given there, if no determination of time has been made.
XXX. Although the weekly Sabbath (considered in reference to the Mosaic economy) and the ceremonial adjuncts (namely with regard to the particular observance of the seventh day and its scrupulous and exact observance, prescribed in the Old Testament) were a shadow of things to come and may properly be said to have been abrogated under the New Testament; it does not follow that the Sabbath itself considered in itself and absolutely is equally ceremonial and so has been abrogated. In Col. 2:16, 17, Paul speaks of the Sabbath in the former sense (in which sense the false apostles pressed it); but not in the second. In the same manner, he speaks of meat and drink, not absolutely and simply (because then it would follow that no moral precept was given about meat and drink and on that account gluttons and wine-bibbers are no more to be condemned now, than the observers of new moons), but relatively and comparatively, with reference to the law of food (which prescribed a distinction of foods, which has now been taken away under the New Testament).
XXXI. Although the institution of the Sabbath as to the determination of a certain day does not flow from the nature of God and is not founded absolutely upon the primary natural right of God, but depends upon his will and so is rather based upon his positive right, it does not follow that it cannot be moral and perpetual by reason of the secondary right natural to us. What is positive to God can be natural to us (as has already been seen).
Third proposition: the fourth precept is partly moral, partly ceremonial.
XXXII. Third proposition: the fourth precept, concerning the Sabbath, is partly moral and partly ceremonial. Ceremonial can be viewed in three ways: (1) in the designation of the seventh day, which, as it was changed under the New Testament, ought to have been ceremonial. (2) In the sanctification of that day, its strict and rigid observance from evening to evening, both privative (by the cessation from all servile work, according to which it was not lawful either to kindle a fire, prepare and cook food or walk and go on a journey) and positive (in the performance of various ceremonial works, partly common to other days—such as the continual sacrifice and circumcision—partly peculiar to that day—as for instance the sacrifices of that day for the whole church, the two lambs of the first year, the two tenth deals of flour mingled with oil [Num. 28:8, 9] and the showbread to be placed in the temple every Sabbath [Lev. 24:7, 8]). (3) In the typical signification of that day, to shadow forth the grace of sanctification and from it the spiritual and heavenly rest in Christ (of which Paul speaks in Col. 2:16, 17).
XXXIII. The moral also consists in three things: (1) in the appointment of public meetings for the worship of God on a certain and fixed time and day. (2) In the sanctification of the day itself, both privative by a cessation from the works of our ordinary calling so that we may have leisure for sacred meditation and divine worship (works of charity and necessity, however, being excepted); and positive, by the solemn and public worship of God in the congregation of the church. (3) In the relief of servants and beasts, for whom God had regard (that they might not be broken down by continued labor), and that servants themselves also might attend to sacred things.
Whether the determination of one day out of seven pertains to the morality of the Sabbath. Statement of the question.
XXXIV. Here, however, a new question arises about this morality (also the subject of dispute among the orthodox): whether from the force and analogy of this precept there belongs to it not only the determination of a certain time and an indeterminate day for public worship, but also the designation of one day out of seven in the weekly cycle, which, recurring in each seven-day period, ought necessarily to be observed. Concerning this: (1) it is not inquired about the suitableness of the thing—whether it was convenient and agreeable to reason for it to be so designated (for all agree that one day out of seven could rightly be instituted for the worship of God and was not instituted without various weighty reasons); rather the question concerns the necessity—whether it was absolutely necessary from the nature of the thing that this should be so arranged from the force and analogy of the precept. (2) The question does not concern the moral strictly so called. This is natural to God, being founded in his nature and holiness and flowing from his image (the contrary of which he cannot command nor dispense with without a contradiction). In this sense, all agree that the designation of such a day is not natural to God and that he was free to select either one out of seven or out of eight or out of ten days for his worship; and that he was not bound to the other part of the contradiction from any necessity of his nature. Rather the question treats of the moral broadly so called, which, although positive on the part of God, still is natural to us inasmuch as it suits the rational nature and the relation of man and his duty to God.
XXXV. Although the dispute is here carried on problematically on both sides (the bond of faith and love remaining unbroken, nor are weighty reasons wanting to the distinguished men who support the negative), still we do not hesitate to say that we incline to the affirmative with others and that the reasons brought forward for it seem to us the more convincing.
XXXVI. First, from the nature of the thing. For since it is natural and moral not only that man should worship God publicly with some external service (and indeed in the communion of saints and in a public assembly), but also that some time should be set apart for this purpose, it ought to be equally natural that there should be some fixed determination of that time, both as to frequency and as to duration (which could not be done by any other than the most wise God, the author of the worship and of time). Since, then, he determined to define that day in the law which in his wisdom he knew to be most in accordance with this purpose and most suitable (six days being left to man and keeping one only for himself in the weekly cycle), he who would now refix that day and substitute another in its place would in a measure raise himself above God and profess to be wiser than he (which would be a proof not only of the greatest rashness, but also of intolerable pride and profane impiety).
XXXVII. Second, if from the force and analogy of the precept, it is not rightly inferred that one day out of seven should be consecrated to divine worship, no certain number or circle of days could have been limited by any divine precept, since mention is made of no other number anywhere in any other precept (and everyone sees this is absurd). Nor is the objection of any force that it is enough that a day sufficient for exhibiting gratitude to God may be gathered from the force of the precept. The precept does not treat only of a sufficient day, but of one day out of seven (which is not ours to change).
XXXVIII. Third, the apostles in the change of the seventh day still retained the hebdomadal cycle, that they might select for public worship one out of seven days. However, they would not have done this unless they had recognized this as invariable and moral. And no one has ever been found among Christians who dared to attempt any change here. Nor ought it to be said that this was the result of Christian liberty and prudence. Although the change of the seventh day to the first was made from Christian liberty, it does not follow that the retention of one day out of seven was equally absolutely free and positive, depending merely upon their will.
Sources of explanation.
XXXIX. The determination of one day out of seven is no more repugnant to Christian liberty than the designation of a certain and stated day for divine worship. For whether one out of seven or eight or ten be selected, always a certain discrimination would be observed. Therefore, when the apostle teaches that under the New Testament the difference of days was taken away (Rom. 14:5, 6; Gal. 4:10) and rebukes the Galatians for keeping days and months, this must be understood of the ceremonial distinction of days (such as prevailed among the Jews under the Old Testament, when it constituted a part of divine worship and had to be laboriously and strictly observed; or such as prevailed among the Gentiles who thought some days to be more holy and fortunate than other days in themselves, and which on that account they were accustomed to distinguish into black and white, lucky and unlucky). Otherwise if all observation of days is absolutely and simply condemned, it would not be lawful now to observe any day at all devoted to the worship of God. Nor could Paul have enjoined it upon Christians to come together upon the first day of each week and make collections (1 Cor. 16:2).
XL. Although believers are bound to worship God on each day of the seven (and thus our whole life ought to be a continual Sabbath), it does not follow that a stated day in the seven should not be consecrated to God. It is evident that public worship could not be performed every day, both on account of weakness of the flesh and on account of the necessity of animal life (which demands the various works of man for its conservation). Thus the Sabbatism of this life is distinguished from the heavenly (which will be perpetual and constant because we will rest from our labors, being then freed from all the miseries and necessities of this life).
XLI. Although from the force of the precept one day out of seven must necessarily be kept as a moral and perpetual duty, it does not follow that the observance of the seventh day (sanctioned in this precept) is equally moral. The precise determination of the seventh day is merely free and accidental to worship; for whether on the seventh or the sixth or any other day of the week the worship of God is attended to, it is all the same provided he is worshipped. But the determination of one day is necessary and conduces in a high degree to the worship of God, for we do not think God can be worshipped conveniently and sufficiently unless one day in seven be consecrated to him.
XLII. That this was the opinion of Calvin can be clearly gathered from his discourses on the ten commandments. In discourse five: “If we would be fervent in the worship of God, as we should be, not one day in seven would be selected, but every day it would be fitting without a written law; since then such and so great is our infirmity, we recognize that polity to have been given not only to the Jews, that there should be a certain day for assembling together, but also to us and that this is common to us with them” (“Sermon Five on Deut. 5:12–14” in John Calvin’s Sermons on the Ten Commandments [ed. B.W. Farley, 1980], pp. 108–9). So in the sixth discourse: “When it is said, six days shalt thou work, the Lord shows that it ought not to seem grievous to us for him to set apart some one day, when he grants us six in place of one” (“Sermon Six on Deut. 5:13–15,” ibid., p. 117). Near the end he adds: “God does not treat with us by his supreme right, but is content if we consecrate one day to him or if that day should serve us through the whole seven” (ibid.).
XLIII. This may also be gathered from the Institutes when he says that “he does not so dwell upon the septenary number of days as to bind the church to its invariable observance” (ICR 2.8.34, p. 400). There his design is not so much to condemn the destination of one day in seven to public worship (which elsewhere with sufficient explicitness he approves) or to refer it to merely human and free polity, as to combat here the Jewish superstition of those who Judaized in its observance. The words which follow have the same reference: “Thus all the triflings of false prophets vanish, who in former ages imbued the people with a Jewish notion, affirming that nothing but the ceremonial part of this command has been abrogated, which they call the appointment of the seventh day, but that the moral part of it still remains (to wit, the observance of one day in seven). And yet this is nothing else than changing the day in contempt of the Jews, while they retain the same opinion of the holiness of the day.” Here it is certain that he does not attack any of the Reformed (with whom he never had any controversy on this point), but certain papists and Scholastics who thought that they had a sufficient regard for evangelical freedom, if they taught the appointment of the seventh day as ceremonial to be abolished (and in the meantime taught that one day out of seven should be kept in the same way as the Jews kept their Sabbath). Hence he adds, “They, who adhere to their constitutions, far surpass the Jews in a gross and carnal superstition of Sabbatism.”
XLIV. Peter Viret, a colleague of Calvin, follows the received opinion and discusses it fully (Exposition familiere sur les dix Commandemens , pp. 260–314). Nor did Beza think differently: “The fourth precept concerning the sanctification of each seventh day, as to the day of the Sabbath and the legal rites, was ceremonial; as to the worship of God it belonged to the immutable moral law and in this life is a perpetual precept” (Annotationes maiores in Novum … Testamentum , Pars Altera, p. 634 on Rev. 1:10). Afterwards: “Therefore assemblies on the Lord’s day are of apostolic and truly divine tradition, so however that the Jewish cessation from all work should by no means be observed, since this would plainly be not to abolish Judaism, but only to change the day” (ibid., p. 635). The same is the opinion of Peter Martyr: “We here omit the mystery of the number seven … and this only we notice, that one out of every seven days is to be devoted to God” (Loci Communis, Cl. 2.7.1 , p. 241). And afterwards: “Just as it is perpetual and eternal that as long as the church exists on earth, she is bound to support her ministers … so, that one day in the seven should be consecrated to divine worship, is well settled and firm” (ibid.). Bucer: “This also is certainly our duty publicly to sanctify one day in the seven to religion. Who, therefore, does not see how healthful it is to the people of Christ, that there should be one day in the week so consecrated to sacred religious exercises that in it no other work is right than to meet in sacred assemblies?” (“De Regno Christi,” 1.11* in Martini Buceri Opera Latina [ed. F. Wendel, 1955], 15:82). Zanchius: “The precept is moral inasmuch as it commands us to consecrate one day out of seven to external divine worship” (“De Quarto Praecepto,” in Opera Theologicorum , 4:650). Of the same opinion were Fayus (cf. “Theses in quartum legis,” 33*.9* in Theses Theologicae in Schola Genevensi , pp. 65–66 ); Junius (“De Politiae Mosis Observatione,” 8 in Opera Theologicae , 1:1914); Paraeus (Miscellanea Catechetica , pp. 175–76); Alsted (Theologia Catechetica , pp. 568–93) and many others.