The Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath | John Calvin

lords-day-christian-sabbathJohn Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy,
Second half of the 34th Sermon, pp. 228-230.

12 Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.

13 Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work:

14 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work…

Now must we come to the second point: which is, that (as I have said already) that Sabbath day was a policy or order whereby to exercise the faithful in the service of God. For that day was ordained for men to assemble in, to hear the doctrine of the law preached, to communicate together with sacrifices, and to call upon the name of God. As touching these points, it belongs as well to us as to the people of old time. For albeit that the figure be ceased, (I mean the same that St. Paul speaks of in the epistle to the Colossians) yet notwithstanding, so much as concerns the order, continues still and has his use. And to what end serves this order? To assemble ourselves in the name of God. True it is that this ought to be done continually: howbeit for our infirmities sake, or rather by reason of our slothfulness, it is requisite that some one day should be chosen out. If we were as earnest in serving of God as we ought to be: we should not appoint one day in a week, only but every man ought to meet both morning and evening without law written, to be edified more and more by Gods word. And truly this exercise is more than needful for us, considering that we be so inclined to will, as there needs not anything to thrust us out of the way: and therefore it were expedient for us to come together daily in the name of God. But what? We see that men will scarce meet upon the Lord’s Day, and that most of them must be held to it as it were by force. Considering then that there is such infirmity in us: let us understand that this order was not made all only for the Jews, that they might have some day wherein to come together: but also for us, so as it belongs to us as well as to them.

But yet herewithall we have to mark, that this is not all: for it were a very slender order to have a rest of our hands and feet, and to go no further than so. What then? We must apply this rest to a higher purpose: we must refrain from our own business which might hinder us from the minding of Gods works: and we must call upon his name and exercise ourselves in his word. If we spend the Lord’s day in making good cheer, and in playing and gaming: is that a good honoring of God? Nay, is it not a mockery, yea and a very unhallowing of his name? Yes. But when the Shop windows are shut in on the Lord’s day, and men travel not as they do on other days: it is to the end we should have the more leisure and liberty to intend to the things that God commands: that is to wit, to be taught by his word, to meet together to make confession of our faith, to call upon his name, & to exercise ourselves in that use of his Sacraments. That is the purpose whereunto this order ought to serve us. But now let us see if those which name themselves Christians, discharge themselves as they ought to do. Behold, a great number think to have that Lord’s Day most free to follow their own business, & reserve that day for the same purpose, as though there were none other day for them to appoint upon of all the week long. And though the bell toll to bring them to the sermon, yet it seems unto them, that they have nothing else to do, but to think upon their business, and to cast up their accounts concerning this and that matter. Other some fall to gluttony, and shut up themselves in their houses, because they dare not show a manifest contempt in the open streets: but yet the Lord’s Day is to them but as a covert to shrink aside in from the Church of God. And hereby it appears what affection we have towards all Christianity, & towards that serving of God, seeing we make that thing an occasion of withdrawing ourselves further from God, which is given us for a help to bring us nearer unto him. And again, be we once gone astray: it serves to pull us quite and clean away. And is not that a devilish spite of men? Yet notwithstanding it is so common a thing, as is pity to see: and would God that examples were more rare and further of to be found. But that world sees how all things are unhallowed, insomuch that most folk have no regard at all of that using of that day, which was ordained to withdraw us from all earthly cares and affairs, that we might give ourselves wholly unto God.

Furthermore we must understand, that the Lord’s Day was not appointed all only to the hearing of Sermons: but to the end we should apply the rest of the time to the praying of God. Yea verily. For although he feed us every day: yet do we not mind his gracious benefits sufficiently to magnify them. Indeed it were a poor thing if we minded not God’s benefits but upon the Lord’s Day: But because we be occupied too much about our own affairs on the other days, therefore we be not so much given to serve God in them, as upon the day which is assigned wholly thereunto. The Lord’s Day then must serve us for a tower to mount up into, to view God’s works a far of, as a time wherein we have nothing to let us or to keep us occupied, but that we may employ all our wits to consider the benefits and gracious gifts that he has bestowed upon us. And if we can put this thing well in use (that is to say, if we can consider God’s works), upon the Lord’s Day, surely we shall be the more given unto it all the rest of the week after, and the minding thereof will as it were fashion and polish us beforehand, so as our musing upon his works long before to the intent we may know how to fare the better by them, will lead us to yield thanks unto our God upon the Monday and all the week after. But if the Lord’s Day be spent not only in games & past times full of vanity, but also in things quite contrary to God, so as men think they have not kept holy the Lord’s Day, except God be offended diverse ways: if the holy order which God ordained to bring us to him, be broken after that fashion: is it any wonder though men play the beasts all the week after? What is to be done then? Let us assure ourselves that it not enough for us to go to some Sermon upon the Lord’s Day, to receive some good instruction & to call upon the name of God: but we must also digest the same things, and bend all our wits to consider the gracious things that God has done for us: and by that means we must frame ourselves to the things that may lead us to our God, without further travel on Monday or of all the week after. And to the intent we may not do aught else than record; things by good leisure, which we had learned before: let our minds be discharged of all things that may hinder us, or pluck us back from the considering of God’s works. Thus you see what the order is which we must keep at this day. It is not to keep the ceremony so straight as it was under the bondage of the law: for we have not the figure or shadow any more. But it serves to call us together, that we may be inured according to our infirmity, to apply ourselves the better to the serving of God, and to dedicate that day wholly unto him, so as we may be utterly withdrawn from the world, and the same may stand us instead all the rest of the week, as I said before.

Yea and we have to mark also, that it is not enough for us to think upon God and his works upon the Lord’s Day every man alone by himself: but that we must meet together upon some day certain to make open confession of our faith. Indeed this ought to be done every day as I have said before. But yet in respect of men’s rawness, and by reason of their slothfulness: it is necessary to have one special day dedicated wholly thereunto. It is true that we bee not bound to the seventh day; neither do we (in deed) keep the same day that was appointed to themes: for that was the Saturday. But to the intent to show the liberty of Christians, the day was changed because Jesus Christ in his resurrection did set us free from the bondage of the law, & cancelled the obligation thereof. That was the cause why the day was shifted. But yet must we observe the same order of having some day in the week, be it one or be it two, for that is left to the free choice of Christians. Nevertheless, if a people assemble to have the Sacraments ministered, and to make common prayer unto GOD, and to show one agreement and union of faith: it is convenient to have some one day certain for that purpose. Then is it not enough for every man to withdraw himself into his own house, whether it be to read the holy Scripture or to pray unto GOD: but it is meete [proper] that we should come into the company of the faithful, and there show the agreement which we have with all the whole body of the Church, by keeping this order which our Lord has so commanded. But what? There a man may see too apparent unhallowing of God’s service. For (as I have touched before) are there not a great sort which could well find in their hearts to show that they do but mock God, and that they would fain be exempted from common law? It is true that they will come to a sermon a five or six times a year. And what to do there? Forsooth even to mock at God and at all his doctrine. Indeed they be very swine, which come to defile God’s temple, and are worthier to be in stables than there, and they were better to keep themselves at home in their stinking cabins. To be short, it were better that such rascals and filthy villains were quite cut off from the Church of God, than that they should come and intermingle themselves after that sort in company with the faithful. But yet how many times come they thither? The bell may ring well enough: for look where a man left them, there shall he find them. So then we ought to be the more diligent and careful, in quickening up ourselves to make such confession of our faith, as God may be honored with one common content among us. And besides that, all superstitions must be banished. For we see how it is an opinion in popery, that God is served with idleness. It is not after that sort that we must keep holy the Sabbath day. But to the intent it may be applied to the right and lawful use, we must consider (as I said before) how our Lord requires to have this day bestowed in nothing else, but in hearing of his word, in making common prayer, in making confession of our faith, and in having the use of the Sacraments. Those are the things that we be called to. Howbeit, we see how all things have been corrupted & confounded in the Popedom. For like as they have allotted days to honoring of their he Saints and she Saints, and set up images of them: so have they surmised that they were to be worshipped with idleness. But seeing that world is, so given to corruption: it stands us so much the more in hand to mark well this discourse concerning the Sabbath day, as it is set down here by Moses. And let us consider to what end our Lord commanded the people, of old time, to have one day in the week to rest in: to the intent that we knowing how the same is abolished by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, may take ourselves to the spiritual rest, that is to say, dedicate ourselves wholly unto God, forsaking all our own reason and affections. Again let us retain still the outward order, so far as is meete [proper] for us, that is to wit, of forbearing our own affairs and worldly businesses, that we may intend wholly to the minding of God’s works, and occupy ourselves in the consideration of the good things that he has done for us. And about all things let us strain ourselves to acknowledge the grace that he offers us daily in his Gospel that we may be strengthened in it still more and more. And when we have bestowed the Lord’s Day in praising and magnifying God’s name, and in minding his works: let us show all week after, that we have profited in the same.

Now let us kneel down in the presence of our good GOD with acknowledgement of our faults, praying him to make us feel them better than we have done. And forasmuch as we can by no means serve him, until the forwardness that is in us be done away, and inasmuch as he has told us that we shall not cease to fight against his righteousness, so long as we give head to our own lusts and imaginations: it may please our good God to grant us such grace by the power of his Holy Spirit, as we may be fully fashioned like unto him that died and rose again for us to mortify us and to quicken us. So then let us bear the mark of our Lord Jesus Christ even in renouncing ourselves, and let us so submit us to his will, as our whole seeking may be to be fashioned like to his righteousness, that his law may be fulfilled in us even as it is spiritual, and we be changed from flesh to spirit, to live under his obeisance. And because there is always so much in us to be misliked: it may please the same good GOD to bear with our infirmities, until his rest be fully brought to pass in us, and that he have taken us up into his heavenly kingdom. That it may please him to grant this grace not only &c.

For more on Calvin’s Sabbatarianism see Calvin in the Hands of the Philistines: Or Did Calvin Bowl on the Sabbath? by Chris Coldwell


4 thoughts on “The Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath | John Calvin

  1. This is a very limited portion of Calvin’s teaching on the Sabbath. The Geneva Catechism:

    GC Q168: Does he interdict us from all kind of labor?
    A: This commandment has a separate and peculiar reason. As the observance of rest is part of the old ceremonies, it was abolished by the advent of Christ.

    GC Q169: Do you mean that this commandment properly refers to the Jews, and was therefore merely temporary?
    A: I do, in as far as it is ceremonial.

    GC Q181: Let us now see how far this command has reference to us.
    A: In regard to the ceremony, I hold that it was abolished, as the reality existed in Christ. (Colossians 2:17.)

    GC Q183: What of the commandment then remains for us?
    A: Not to neglect the holy ordinances which contribute to the spiritual polity of the Church; especially to frequent sacred assemblies, to hear the word of God, to celebrate the sacraments, and engage in the regular prayers, as enjoined.


    1. Yes it’s an excerpt of his sermon, it’s not intended to be a systematic treatment of everything he wrote on the topic. Also, you conveniently skipped the other questions about this commandment. I recommend reading them all in context and trying to understand how it all coheres.


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