WCF vs. 3FU Sabbath – Part 3
So what is the practical difference between the Continental View of the Sabbath and the Westminster view? First should be obvious. The Continental view of the 4th commandment means the 4th commandment applies every day of your life, and the Westminster applies only 52 times a year (once a week).
Second, I do think that there is a disagreement here that goes much deeper. The Westminster holds to “keeping holy to God such express times as appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven” (WLC #116). The logical question is how do you keep a day holy. That is answered in the Larger Catechism 117. “The Sabbath or Lord’s Day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day . . .” (WLC 117). The question goes on to list not only avoiding sin, but also recreation, worldly business, and everything that is not public or private worship or a work of necessity or mercy. In other words the day is kept holy by avoiding work and attending to worship or mercy. This is a “holy resting”. This holy resting is a work we do. We do it by avoiding most things and worshiping all the day long.
The Three Forms of Unity has a different concept of keeping the Sabbath Holy. The concept found in the Heidelberg Catechism is one of “all the day of my life rest from my evil works and allow the Lord to work in me by His Spirit and thus in this life begin the everlasting Sabbath” (HC 103). Notice the different emphasis. The Westminster is saying that we make the day itself holy by our “holy rest” or our righteous keeping of the commandment. The Heidelberg is equating holiness more with allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. The Westminster is again focused on our works and our righteousness and the Heidelberg is focused on the Spirit working in us.
This is the same disagreement we found in the Westminster’s doctrine of assurance. Assurance in the Heidelberg is found mainly in the Spirit working in us through the sacraments and preaching. Our assurance was mainly in looking to Christ via the Spirit. The Westminster’s focus for assurance was our walk in good conscience before the Lord. So then we should not be all that surprised at the difference on the 4th Commandment. The Westminster has work that can be measured and pointed to so that when you look at your walk in a good conscience, you have something to look upon. The Heidleberg does not put works as a very high priority for assurance, and the 4th Commandment view is in line with that. Rather the Heidelberg makes assurance directly related to looking upon Christ, and this is exactly what the 4th Commandment is about. Letting God work in us as we acknowledge what is good in this world. On the seventh day the Lord acknowledge as he had made was very good. This is what we are to be doing. Acknowledging it is God who is very good and His work is very good, and our sanctification and holiness is from His work in us.
This points to a possible disagreement about holiness or at least a different emphasis. The Westminster holds that one day is more holy than others (or at least we are to keep it holy). It also emphasizes our work in holiness. It our holy rest, our keeping. The Three Forms are different. It emphasizes God’s work in holiness and holds all days the same. All the days of our life are to be kept holy, and that is by the Spirit working in us. The need for the holiness of Christ is repeated in questions 36, 60, and 61 and our holiness is only mentioned in what was lost in the fall of Adam. The Westminster usually uses it in reference to our holiness. They mention it as what was lost by Adam (4.2), that we are sanctified to works of holiness without which we will not see the Lord (13.1), our spiritual war leads to our perfecting holiness thanks to the strength of the Spirit (13.3), in the chapter on good works about our fruit unto holiness (16.2), serving the Lord in holiness and righteousness is the goal of Christian Liberty (20.3), and being made perfect in holiness at the Second Coming (32.1).
Thus the Heidelberg speaks of Christ’s holiness and our need for it and Christ giving it to us. The Westminster speaks of Holiness as a result of our sanctification and what we grow in and work on during this life. This is a difference between the Westminster and the Three Forms that is all throughout and finds its clearest difference in the 4th Commandment.