POSITION OF THE REFORMERS CONCERNING THE SABBATH AND FIRST DAY
The Reformation arose in the Catholic church - The Sabbath had been crushed out of that church, and innumerable festivals established in its stead - Sunday as observed by Luther, Melancthon, Zwingle, Beza, Bucer, Cranmer, and Tyndale - The position of Calvin stated at length and illustrated - Knox agreed with Calvin - Sunday in Scotland A.D. 1601 - How we should view the Reformers.
The great Reformation of the sixteenth century arose from the bosom of the Catholic church itself. From that church the Sabbath had long been extirpated; and instead of that merciful institution ordained by the divine Lawgiver for the rest and refreshment of mankind, and that man might acknowledge God as his Creator, the papacy had ordained innumerable festivals, which, as a terrible burden, crushed the people to the earth. These festivals are thus enumerated by Dr. Heylyn:
Such was the state of things when the reformers began their labors. That they should give up these festivals and return to the observance of the ancient Sabbath, would be expecting too much of men educated in the bosom of the Romish church. Indeed, it ought not to surprise us that, while they were constrained to strike down the authority of these festivals, they should nevertheless retain the most important of them in their observance. The reformers spoke on this matter as follows:- The Confession of the Swiss churches declares that,
We further learn that,
Zwingle declared "that it was lawful on the Lord's day, after divine service, for any man to pursue his labors."4 Beza taught that "no cessation of work on the Lord's day is required of Christians."5 Bucer goes further yet, "and doth not only call it a superstition, but an apostasy from Christ to think that working on the Lord's day, in itself considered, is a sinful thing."6 And Cranmer, in his Catechism, published in 1548, says:
It is plain that both Cranmer and Tyndale believed that the ancient Sabbath was abolished, and that Sunday was only a human ordinance which it was in the power of the magistrates and the church lawfully to change whenever they saw cause for so doing. And Dr. Hessey gives the opinion of Zwingle respecting the present power of each individual church to transfer the so-called Lord's day to another day, whenever necessity urges, as, for example, in harvest time. Thus Zwingle says:
Zwingle could not, therefore, have considered Sunday as a divinely appointed memorial of the resurrection, or indeed, as anything but a church festival.
John Calvin said, respecting the origin of the Sunday festival:
It is worthy of notice that Calvin does not assign to Christ and his disciples the establishment of Sunday in the place of the Sabbath. He says this was done by the "ancients,"11 or as another translates it, "the old fathers." Nor does he say "the day which John called the Lord's day," but "the day which we call the Lord's day." And what is worthy of particular notice he did not insist that the day which should be appropriated to worship should be one day in every seven; for he was not tied to "the septenary number." The day might come once in six days, or once in eight. And this proves conclusively that he did not regard Sunday as a divine institution in the proper sense of the word; for if he had, he would most assuredly have felt that the festival must be septenary, that is, weekly, and that he must urge "the church to an invariable adherence to it." But Calvin does not leave the matter here. He condemns as "FALSE PROPHETS" those who attempt to enforce the Sunday festival by means of the fourth commandment; and who to do this say that the ceremonial part, which requires the observance of the definite seventh day, is abolished, while the moral part, which simply commands the observance of one day in seven, still remains in force. Here are his words:
Yet these very "dreams of false prophets." to use the words of Calvin, constitute the foundation of the modern doctrine of the change of the Sabbath. For whatever may be said of first-day sacredness in the New Testament, the fourth commandment can only be made to recognize that day by means of this very doctrine of one day in seven which Calvin so sharply denounces. Now I state another important fact. Calvin's commentaries on the New Testament cover all the books from which quotations are made in behalf of Sunday except the book of Revelation. What does Calvin say concerning the change of the Sabbath in the record of Christ's resurrection?13 Not one word. He does not even hint at any sacredness in the day, nor any commemoration of the day. Does he say that the meeting "after eight days" was upon Sunday? He does not say what day it was.14 What does he say of Sunday in treating of the day of Pentecost?15 Nothing. He does not so much as say that this festival was on the first day of the week. What does he say of the breaking of bread at Troas? He thinks it took place upon the ancient Sabbath! He says:
He says, however, that this place might "very well" be translated "the morrow after the Sabbath." But he adheres to his own translation, "one day of the Sabbaths," and not "first day of the week." He says further:
This shows conclusively that Calvin believed the Sabbath, and not the first day of the week, to have been the day for meetings in the apostolic church. But what does he say of the laying by in store on the first day of the week? He says that Paul's precept relates, not to the first day of the week, but to the Sabbath! And he marks the Sabbath as the day on which the sacred assemblies were held, and the communion celebrated, and says that on account of these things this was the most convenient day for collecting their contribution. Thus he writes:
These words are very remarkable. They show first, that by the Sabbath day Calvin means, not the first day, but the seventh; second, that in his judgment as late as the time of this epistle, and of the meeting at Troas [A.D. 60], the Sabbath was the day for the sacred assemblies of the Christians, and for the celebration of the communion; third, "but that AFTERWARDS, constrained by THE SUPERSTITION OF THE JEWS, they set aside that day, and substituted another."
Calvin did not therefore believe that Christ changed the Sabbath to Sunday to commemorate his resurrection; for he says that the resurrection abolished the Sabbath,21 and yet he believes that the Sabbath was the sacred day of the Christians to the entire exclusion of Sunday as late as the year 60. Nor could he believe that the apostles set apart Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Christ, for he thinks that they did not make choice of that day till after the year 60, and even then they did it merely because constrained so to do by the superstition of the Jews!
Dr. Hessey illustrates Calvin's ideas of Sunday observance by the following incident:
Without doubt Calvin was acting in exact harmony with his ideas of the nature of the Sunday festival. But the famous case of Michael Servetus furnishes us a still more pointed illustration of his views of the sacredness of that day. Servetus was arrested in Geneva on the personal application of John Calvin to the magistrates of that city. Such is the statement of Theodore Beza, the life-long friend of Calvin.23 Beza's translator adds to this fact the following remarkable statement:
The same fact is stated by Robinson:
Calvin's own words respecting the arrest are these:
The warmest friends of first-day sacredness will not deny that the least sinful part of this transaction was that it occurred on Sunday. Nevertheless the fact that Calvin caused the arrest of Servetus on that day shows that he had no conviction that the day possessed any inherent sacredness.
John Barclay,28 a learned man of Scotch descent, and a moderate Roman Catholic, who was born soon after the death of Calvin, and whose early life was spent in eastern France, not very remote from Geneva, published the statement that Calvin and his friends at Geneva
Another reason assigned by Calvin for this proposed change was,
This statement has been credited by many learned Protestants,30 some of whom must be acknowledged as men of candor and judgment. But Dr. Twisse31 discredits Barclay because he did not name the individuals with whom Calvin consulted, and produce them as witnesses; and because that King James I. of England at one time suspected Barclay of treachery toward him. But no such crime was ever proved, nor does it appear that the king continued always to hold him in that light.32 His veracity has never been impeached. The statement of Barclay may possibly be incorrect, but it is not inconsistent with Calvin's doctrine that the church is not tied to a festival that should come once in seven days, even as Tyndale said that they could change the Sabbath into Monday or could "make every tenth day holy day, only if we see cause why," and it is in perfect harmony with Calvin's idea of Sunday sacredness as shown in his acts already noticed. Like the other reformers, Calvin is not always consistent with himself in his statements. Nevertheless, we have his judgment concerning the several texts which are used to prove the change of the Sabbath, and also respecting the theory that the commandment may be used to enforce, not the seventh day, but one day in seven, and it is fatal to the modern first-day doctrine.
John Knox, the great Scottish reformer, was the intimate friend of Calvin, with whom he lived at Geneva during a portion of his exile from Scotland. Though the foundation of the Presbyterian church of Scotland was laid by Knox, or rather by Calvin, for Knox carried out Calvin's system, and though that church is now very strict in the observance of Sunday as the Sabbath, yet Knox himself was of Calvin's mind as to the obligation of that day. The original Confession of Faith of that church was drawn up by Knox in A.D. 1560.33 In that document Knox states the duties of the first table of the law as follows:
It is plain that Knox believed the Sabbath commandment to have been stricken out of the first table. Dr. Hessey, after speaking of certain references to Sunday in a subsequent work of his, makes this statement respecting the present doctrine of the Sabbath in the Presbyterian church:
That church now holds Sunday to be the divinely authorized memorial of the resurrection of Christ, enforced by the authority of the fourth commandment. But not thus was it held by Calvin and Knox. A British writer states the condition of things with respect to Sunday in Scotland about the year 1601:
But the Presbyterian church, after Knox's time, effected an entire change with respect to Sunday observance. The same writer says:
Dr. Hessey shows the method of doing this. He says:
The circumstances under which this new doctrine was framed, the name of its author, and the date of its publication, will be given in their place. That the body of the reformers should have failed to recognize the authority of the fourth commandment, and that they did not turn men from the Romish festivals to the Sabbath of the Lord, is a matter of regret rather than of surprise. The impropriety of making them the standard of divine truth is forcibly set forth in the following language:
13 Calvin's Harmony of the Evangelists on Matt.28; Mark 16; Luke 24. <Return>
22 Hessey's Bampton Lectures on Sunday, p. 201, ed. 1866. In the notes appended, p. 366, he says: "At Geneva a tradition exists, that when John Knox visited Calvin on a Sunday, he found his austere coadjutor bowling on a green." Dr. Hessey evidently credited this tradition. <Return>
30 See Heylyn's Hist. of the Sabbath, part ii. chapter vi. sect 8; Morer's Lord's Day, pp. 216, 217, 228; An Inquiry into the Origin of Septenary Institutions, p. 55; The Modern Sabbath Examined, p. 26, Whitaker, Treacher, and Arnot, London, 1832; Cox's Sabbath Literature, vol. i. pp. 165, 166; Hessey, pp. 141, 142, 198, 341, and the authors there cited. <Return>
32 In fact, the story told by Twisse that Barclay is not to be believed in what he says of Calvin because he was treacherous toward King James I., who for that reason would not promote him at his court, appears to be wholly unfounded. The Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. iv., p. 439, eighth edition, assigns a very different reason. It says: "In those days a pension bestowed upon a Scottish papist would have been numbered among the national grievances." That is to say, public opinion would not then tolerate the promotion of a Romanist. But this writer believes that the king secretly favored Barclay. Thus on page 440 he adds: "Although it does not appear that he obtained any regular provision from the king, we may perhaps suppose that he at least received occasional gratuities." This writer knew nothing of Barclay as a detected spy at the king's court. Of his standing as a man, he says on p. 441: "If there had been any remarkable blemish in the morals of Barclay, some of his numerous adversaries would have pointed it out." M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 663, says that he "would doubtless have succeeded at court had he not been a Romanist." See also Knight's Cyclopedia of Biography, article Barclay. <Return>