Calvin on the Sabbath (Richard Gaffin)

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Gaffin, Richard.  Calvin on the Sabbath: The Controversy of applying the Fourth Commandment. Mentor Publishing, 1998.

This book tangentially deals with what we call modern Sabbatarian controversies.  Gaffin isn’t so much concerned with whether we can go to our kid’s soccer game on Sunday as he is with whether Calvin was consistent in seeing the Lord’s Day as a creation ordinance, typical ordinance, or elements of both.  Therefore, Gaffin (or Gaffin’s Calvin) will not help either the latitudinarian nor the Midrashim who wants to make up lists of what we are or are not allowed to do on the Sabbath. If Gaffin has an agenda, it’s hard to see. This book is just scholarship.

I am going to lay out several theses on what Calvin taught on the Sabbath.  This isn’t Gaffin’s method, but it’s easier to make sense of:

(1) When tied with the creational element, the Sabbath has an eschatological thrust where we fully rest from sin (32).

(2) Resting from our labors on the Sabbath allows for the public worship of God (37).  This raises another question, though: is Sunday rooted in mere convenience or in God’s law?  There really isn’t an easy answer to this.

(3) Calvin doesn’t really contradict himself between the Institutes and the Commentaries.  The differences can be accounted for by different opponents.

(4) WIth Christ the Sabbath ceased to function as a type.  The spiritual rest is now a full reality (48).

(5) The Sabbath is still binding in the sense of our servants need rest and we need to worship unencumbered.  

(6) It’s not immediately clear how to harmonize (4) and (5).  What in the typical Sabbath did Christ fulfill and bring to an end?  I think Calvin’s answer is, “Rest from sin.” Certainly, as Christ’s death points to that.  But we aren’t fully resting from sin in this mortal coil. Further, although we should rest from our labors as a type of resting from sin on the Sabbath, we should be resting from sin on each day, anyway.

Mind you, I am not disagreeing with Calvin, but I think this point needs to be developed.

Gaffin ends with a survey of Reformation teaching on the Lord’s Day.  This is a useful guide to Calvin’s teaching on the Lord’s Day. I appreciated how Gaffin (or Gaffin’s Calvin) drew notice to the keeping of the Lord’s Day as a sanctifying experience.

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