Friday, May 09, 2014

WCF vs. Three Forms - Fourth Commandment Part 1

I guess what everyone is waiting on in this Three Forms vs. Westminster is the difference with regards to the Sabbath or the Fourth Commandment.  It is the most recognized difference, although many people believe that there is really not a big difference.  Dr. Clark argues that there might be some difference, but fundamentally the Westminster and the Heidelberg are the same and thus the idea of a “Continental” and a “Westminster” or “Puritan” view of the Sabbath is wrong. 

So, I should begin by arguing that there is indeed a “Continental” view of the Sabbath and it finds expression in the Heidelberg Catechism Question 103. 

“In the first place, God wills that the ministry of the Gospel and schools be maintained, and that I, especially on the day of rest, diligently attend church to learn the Word of God, to use the Holy Sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian alms.  In the second place, that all the days of my life I rest from my evil works, allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit, and thus begin in this life the everlasting Sabbath.” 

And now the Westminster 21.7

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the worlds, as the Christian Sabbath.” 

And Westminster Larger Catechism #116

“The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day.” 

Dr. Clark (and others I am just using his blog because it isthe best), argue that there is a Reformed view of the Sabbath and it states a one day in seven pattern, grounded in creation, continues in the NT, and changed with the resurrection of Jesus from the last day to the first day. 

The question is do you see those things in both the Heidelberg and the Westminster?  Clark points to lectures given by Ursinus that explain the perpetual part of the commandment being the worship of God.  However, in his commentary he seems to indicate that the Sabbath day was a sign and sacrament of the OT that is done away with.  He describes the moral and perpetural nature of the 4th Commandment as “a careful shunning of sin, and a worship of God by confession and obedience” (pg.992).  He also calls it a “spiritual Sabbath” and contrasts that with the ceremonial portion or the “external Sabbath”.  He divides that “external sabbath” into the immediate and mediate.  The immediate was the Old Testament Sabbath of worshipping on Saturday, and it is fulfilled and gone.  The mediate is the New testament.  He describes it, “the old was restricted to the seventh day: its observance was necessary and constituted the worship of God.  The new depends upon the decision and appointment of the church, which for certain reasons has made the choice of the first day of the week, which is to be observed for the sake of order, and not from any idea of necessity, as if this and no other were to be observed by the church” (pg.994).  Perhaps it should be added that this internal-external division is not new as it can be seen in places like the Large Emden Catechism of John A’Lasko. 

Now does that sound like what is written in the Westminster?  I think the answer is no.  The Westminster is saying that the day remains a necessity and was changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ into the first day.  The Heidelberg says nothing about a specific day.  In fact, we now have seen that the idea of a specific day was rejected by at least one of the authors of the Catechism. 

Just to show that the Heidelberg is not alone take a look at the Second Helvetic Confession of Henry Bullinger.  The Second Helvetic was given to the Elector Frederick III to use in his defense at the Diet of Augsburg in 1566, so it has some connection to Heidelberg.  Chapter 24 of Holy Days, Fasts, and Choice Meats:

“Every church, therefore, chooses unto itself a certain time for public prayers and for preaching of the gospel . . . .  Yet herein we give no place unto the Jewish observation of the day or to any superstitions.  For we do not account one day to be holier than another, nor think that mere rest is of itself liked of God.  Besides we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Sabbath, and that with a free observation.” 

Bullinger here draws a line of separation between the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath.  They are distinct not one changing into the other as the Westminster puts it.  And the Heidelberg does not use the title Lord’s Day at all.  The Heidelberg Catechism does not speak of one day in seven.  The Heidelberg does not speak of Sunday at all.  The Heidelberg does not speak of rest from labor at all, only resting from evil works or sin, which seems to put it more in line with the Second Helvetic thinking that rest from work is not part of the commandment for us today.  Or at least not a necessary part.  Westminster Larger Catechism 117 states specifically that rest is not just from sinful work, but from all work and even recreation and Westminster 21.8 expands that to thoughts and words about regular work and worldly employment. 

It seems to me then that a clear “Continental tradition” and “Puritan Tradition” can be seen.  It is difficult to see the principles of agreement named by Dr. Clark that would unify these different understandings of the 4th Commandment.  Exactly how the disagreement plays out will be the subject of the next post.      


Andrea said...

Great! Thanks for the clarity, Lee.

Anonymous said...

The Westminster doctrine on the Sabbath comes straight from 17th century Dutch/continental theology (cf. Witsius.) The Heidelberg is 16th century. At that time its method of expression was common, also in England. It's not a difference between Continental and British theology, but a development in the doctrine of the Sabbath from the 16th to the 17th century as divines noticed that the Sabbath was a creation ordinance.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the English and Scots, there were also French Reformed (continental) divines at the Westminster Assembly.

Lee said...

I am using the term "Continental" because that is the common term to use, not to imply every one on the Continent thought this way.
The Dutch at the Synod of Dordt (17th Century) tried to find a middle way. They ground it in creation, believe in an established day which is now Sunday, but stop short of forbidding everything forbidden by the Westminster and in fact condemn the "rigid observance" and forbid only "servile labors" and recreation that "impedes" worship rather than all work and all recreation.

Your point about this being a development of doctrine deserves a post all its own. Thank you for bringing it up.