Sabbath and Recreations: Objections to use of Isaiah 58

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NaphtaliPress

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"But it may be said, that men's minds being burdened, and oppressed with the former service of the day, therefore some relaxation is to be granted for the refreshing of our spirits; as much as to say, a part of the Lord's Day is to be allowed for profane sports and pastimes, to refresh us after we have been tired out with serving God. Can this be savory in the ears of a Christian?" William Twisse, Morality of the Fourth Commandment, 1641.
 

Reformed Covenanter

Cancelled Commissioner
Here is how the fourth commandment has been rewritten in our day: "Remember the LORD's hour to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the [first] is a Sabbath to yourself and one hour to the LORD your God."

A side-effect of the view that the Sabbath is a day for our recreation is habitual non-attendance (usually) at evening services. After all, if you can glorify God on the Sabbath by watching sports and so on, then why bother going to church? Truth be told, this issue really is not difficult. We are told to keep the Sabbath holy; we are not told to keep it common. Recreations (within reason) are fine on any other day, as they are part of the common realm of life. However, they have no place on God's holy day, as it is a day set apart primarily for God and his worship.
 

brendanchatt

Puritan Board Freshman
Even as, if the "fast" here refers to a ceremonial fast, the verses apply to our moral, providentially-called fasts. Thoughts?

"Fast" in the context could refer to a fast called for providence's sake by OT Israel at that time. Isn't that true?
 
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alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I've been refreshing my memory on the subject matter. There are a number of ways one can argue that recreations are not a proper activity for the Lord's day. However, Isaiah 58:13-14 is especially pertinent since it seems to speak so directly to the matter and is used as a proof text in our Standards. Some questions as I've been trying to think of objections to using this text for showing recreations are not allowed on the Lord's day.

1) How do we know that "thine own pleasure" refers to recreations? Some argue that it refers to business (I've read Lane Keister's piece on this), inherently sinful works, worldly employments, or worldly recreations ("worldly" in the sense of "worldliness;" hence, presupposing that some non-spiritual recreations are allowed)? Obviously, "thine own pleasures" seems broad enough to encompass all of these, but how do we know that it is being used in a broad manner rather than being restricted to one of these other things?

2) How do we know that the "sabbath" mentioned here refers to or applies to the moral sabbath? There were other sabbaths, and most of the chapter is on fasting, so the term "sabbath" may refer to one of the ceremonial sabbaths. So the reference might refer to a ceremonial sabbath, and it might not apply to the weekly moral sabbath (i.e., it requires further argumentation to say it applies to the weekly moral sabbath).

3) Supposing it refers or applies to the weekly moral sabbath, how is it evident that this was not part of a ceremonial way of keeping the weekly sabbath, and instead is part of the substance of the weekly moral sabbath?

Ryan McGraw's "The Day of Worship" would be a good book for you to read. He spends two chapters specifically on the Isaiah text (including dealing with the fasting context). With a couple of small reservations I heartily recommend this work.

TheOldCourse,

I don't really see how Vox Oculi's total misunderstanding of the LBC is a 9th commandment issue. People are far too trigger happy with the 9th commandment nowadays.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
brendanchatt said:
"Fast" in the context could refer to a fast called for providence's sake by OT Israel at that time. Isn't that true?
Yes, I think that's a possibility. It's mostly if one connects the "sabbath" to the "fast" that one starts getting the ceremonial idea, I think. However, could be my memory is off, I recall commentators thinking the fast was ceremonial while the sabbath was not.

alexandermsmith said:
Ryan McGraw's "The Day of Worship" would be a good book for you to read. He spends two chapters specifically on the Isaiah text (including dealing with the fasting context). With a couple of small reservations I heartily recommend this work.
Excellent! I will look into it, thank you.


Other possibilities for the meaning of pleasure:

1) Sinful works, in particular hypocrisy, which is derived from connecting this idea to "pleasure" mentioned in the fast and in Isaiah 56 (I think this is/is similar to Dr. Gonzales' view).
2) Business, seeing a connection with Nehemiah


Other defenses of recreations on the Sabbath:
3) What if recreation is used to refresh the body, since it is a day of rest? (somewhat in accord with Frame; who I think takes the meaning of "Sabbath" and says rest is the end of the day, not a means to an end.)
4) What if one says one wishes to spend the day enjoying God's creation and so delight in the Lord that way? And in enjoying God's creation, one feels refreshed and delights in the Lord (hence arguing that not all non-spiritual recreations lead the mind away from heaven).
5) We do recreations anyway to help us towards spiritual duties, like napping, so moderate recreations are actually necessary for spiritual duties.



Thoughts? I have some of my own, but it is helpful to hear thoughts from others, as always.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
4) What if one says one wishes to spend the day enjoying God's creation and so delight in the Lord that way? And in enjoying God's creation, one feels refreshed and delights in the Lord (hence arguing that not all non-spiritual recreations lead the mind away from heaven).

I don't see anything wrong in going outside and enjoying your garden or the countryside on the Lord's Day, with picnic, bottle of beer/ginger beer and good Christian literature. You aren't necessarily observing the Sabbath better in your house or outside of it.

God's people are enjoying the fulfillment of this prophecy, in measure:

It shall come to pass in the latter days........

but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
and no one shall make them afraid,
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 1a, 4)

If it involves a lot of labour and travel to get to your secluded woodland spot, or whatever, and the day is severely broken up by the effort, you might decide that it is more in keeping with the spirit and letter of the day to remain at home.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Peairtach said:
I don't see anything wrong in going outside and enjoying your garden or the countryside on the Lord's Day, with picnic, bottle of beer/ginger beer and good Christian literature. You aren't necessarily observing the Sabbath better in your house or outside of it.
This isn't what the proponent of recreation is saying though. They are talking about going out to enjoy God's creation, period. It is not about a location to do one's devotions, but an enjoyment of the created world itself.
 

Tyrese

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think one of the reasons the Lord's day Sabbath is being jettisoned by so many Christians today is because there's an over emphasis on this one commandment over the other 9. I for one believe that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, but not at the risk of loosing sight of what it means to be holy all of my days. The Bible says "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). I believe keeping the Sabbath is apart of being holy, however it's so much more. When you have Reformed Christians treating other days as if they have no significance at all, and completely throwing out and redefining verses like Romans 12:1, "...Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God", teaching that only the stated meetings of the Church is worship, people simply are not going to be convinced about what's permissible and what is not on the Lords day. There's some men out there who are zealous for the Lords day, but have absolutely no regard for practical holiness.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
brendanchatt said:
"Fast" in the context could refer to a fast called for providence's sake by OT Israel at that time. Isn't that true?
Yes, I think that's a possibility. It's mostly if one connects the "sabbath" to the "fast" that one starts getting the ceremonial idea, I think. However, could be my memory is off, I recall commentators thinking the fast was ceremonial while the sabbath was not.

Just as a very brief summary of McGraw's understanding of that chapter in Isaiah: McGraw draws the relation between the discussion of fasting and the Sabbath to be in principles of right worship, rather than a ceremonial/moral distinction/discussion.

My answers to the following points shouldn't be taken as being directed towards you, but merely as my thoughts on the points you raise. Apologies if they come across accusatory.

Other possibilities for the meaning of pleasure:

1) Sinful works, in particular hypocrisy, which is derived from connecting this idea to "pleasure" mentioned in the fast and in Isaiah 56 (I think this is/is similar to Dr. Gonzales' view).

Sinful works are already prohibited so it would seem strange to issue a prohibition of such works specifically for the Sabbath.

2) Business, seeing a connection with Nehemiah

I would argue that the Isaiah passage has a far wider scope than the passage in Nehemiah. Also, is "thy[my] pleasure" a natural- or common- way of referring to our employment? I don't think I've ever heard anyone refer to their work in this way. That's not to say that many people don't find their work pleasurable- or making profit pleasurable- but I think pleasure is more naturally understood as a recreation. I think whenever people use the term pleasure to describe an actvity they are referring to a recreation or past time. Or if one is referred to as a "pleasure seeker", it's not to say that they are a seeker of pleasure in employment but in (usually dubious if not immoral) recreations. Maybe in the 17th century pleasure was a synonym for employment, but since that's not how the divines understood the term I would be highly doubtful.

The further activities mentioned in the verse would back this up: "not doing thine own ways", "thine own pleasure", "thine own words". Is employment really all that is in view here? Also, in our employment, most of us don't do "our own" ways or speak "our own" words: most of us are working for someone else, pursuing their ways and often speaking their words. These clauses clearly have in mind independent pursuits and conversations, which are most naturally understood as recreations, and saying that such pursuits are not suitable for the Sabbath.


Other defenses of recreations on the Sabbath:
3) What if recreation is used to refresh the body, since it is a day of rest? (somewhat in accord with Frame; who I think takes the meaning of "Sabbath" and says rest is the end of the day, not a means to an end.)

Well, we sleep before the Sabbath. If sleep is enough to refresh the body for our employments throughout the week it should be enough to refresh our bodies for the duties of the Sabbath, which are mostly spiritual rather than physical. Would playing a game of football or going for a run not tire you out? That's not to mention the fact that these things are distractions from the purpose of the day rather than an aid to it. Also, we have Saturday to rest ourselves physically. I understand that in today's society a lot of people work Saturdays, but I would think most people who work don't and even then, cultural norms don't condition God's laws.

4) What if one says one wishes to spend the day enjoying God's creation and so delight in the Lord that way? And in enjoying God's creation, one feels refreshed and delights in the Lord (hence arguing that not all non-spiritual recreations lead the mind away from heaven).

Again I would say one has 6 days of the week to enjoy God's creation. The purpose of the Sabbath is to worship God: that is how one is meant to delight in Him. It's not a general delighting in God, which can and should be done always. It's a specific delighting in God in the public and private exercises of worship; in spiritual conversation and meditation and fellowship, which things God has promised to bless particularly on the Sabbath. Adam and Eve were given a Sabbath and their employment was to tend to the Garden, i.e. they would have been delighting in God's Creation in their very employment, but they were still commanded to cease on the Sabbath and turn their attention to God in a particular way, i.e. worship.

5) We do recreations anyway to help us towards spiritual duties, like napping, so moderate recreations are actually necessary for spiritual duties.

I would argue that the sleep we do from Saturday to Sabbath morning, for example, is a work of necessity: our bodies need sleep. Eating, too, would be a work of necessity. I wouldn't class these as recreations. Napping can be very beneficial, but often- and I speak from my own experience- napping can turn into sleeping the afternoon away. We must be careful we don't abuse it.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
I think one of the reasons the Lord's day Sabbath is being jettisoned by so many Christians today is because there's an over emphasis on this one commandment over the other 9. I for one believe that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, but not at the risk of loosing sight of what it means to be holy all of my days. The Bible says "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). I believe keeping the Sabbath is apart of being holy, however it's so much more. When you have Reformed Christians treating other days as if they have no significance at all, and completely throwing out and redefining verses like Romans 12:1, "...Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God", teaching that only the stated meetings of the Church is worship, people simply are not going to be convinced about what's permissible and what is not on the Lords day. There's some men out there who are zealous for the Lords day, but have absolutely no regard for practical holiness.

I think you're exactly right in the point you make about certain men in the Reformed camp, whose concept of holiness and sanctification is almost non-existent. However, I think the main reason the 4th commandment has fallen out of favour is that its definition of holiness is God-centred, whereas the church at large is far more interested in a man-centred approach to holiness. This is a result of the substituting of moralism for true Gospel godliness.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I think one of the reasons the Lord's day Sabbath is being jettisoned by so many Christians today is because there's an over emphasis on this one commandment over the other 9. I for one believe that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, but not at the risk of loosing sight of what it means to be holy all of my days. The Bible says "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). I believe keeping the Sabbath is apart of being holy, however it's so much more. When you have Reformed Christians treating other days as if they have no significance at all, and completely throwing out and redefining verses like Romans 12:1, "...Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God", teaching that only the stated meetings of the Church is worship, people simply are not going to be convinced about what's permissible and what is not on the Lords day. There's some men out there who are zealous for the Lords day, but have absolutely no regard for practical holiness.

While this is true to a certain extent, I think there is a reason why the Reformed world has emphasized this commandment so much: it is the one commandment that is probably the most abused, and today most ignored. Furthermore, I would want to point readers to Vos's extraordinary insightfulness on connecting the Sabbath with the covenant in his Biblical Theology. The covenant of works was an embodiment of the OT sabbatical principle: the work comes first, then the rest. The covenant of grace is an embodiment of the NT sabbatical principle: the rest comes first before the work. Sabbath, therefore, is about a LOT more than just how we structure our weekly activities. The Sabbath is about salvation itself, and how we understand grace and works, not to mention our eschatology. The Sabbath has profound redemptive-historical ramifications.

Vox Oculi, if your position is correct, then we shouldn't work on the days of the week either, since that is forbidden by the commandment. Is there no room in your theology for something that is good at one time but NOT good at another time? Is it not wisdom to know that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3)? All morally good things can be done for God's glory, but not even all of those can be done at all times to the glory of God. Work can be done to the glory of God during the week, but not on the Sabbath.
 

alexandermsmith

Puritan Board Junior
4) What if one says one wishes to spend the day enjoying God's creation and so delight in the Lord that way? And in enjoying God's creation, one feels refreshed and delights in the Lord (hence arguing that not all non-spiritual recreations lead the mind away from heaven).

I don't see anything wrong in going outside and enjoying your garden or the countryside on the Lord's Day, with picnic, bottle of beer/ginger beer and good Christian literature. You aren't necessarily observing the Sabbath better in your house or outside of it.

Well, Isaiah also tells us to "turn away thy foot from the Sabbath". I think this is most naturally understood- and, indeed, is how it was understood- as not trampling the Sabbath, which includes unnecessary walks or excursions. One must travel to church to get there; their is no necessity to go for a recreational walk. I think, also, there are more possible distractions outside the home than inside. Boston, I believe, said the safest thing to do on the Sabbath was to stay in one's own home (other than going to the means of grace, obviously). I think going to the homes of those we have been in the public means with, for fellowship, is legitimate, but that's at least on the same side as Boston. I think, if I'm correct, this is also how the Jews would have understood Sabbath keeping: staying indoors except to go to the synagogue.

I do also wonder at the calls for the right to go for walks on the Sabbath. I wonder how many people who seem so jealous of going for walks on the Sabbath go for walks on the other days of the week. I'm not saying this applies to you, but just that it sometimes sounds like special pleading. Some people have a tendency to use the Sabbath as a day onto which to "dump" all their spiritual duties, so they can spend the rest of the week doing things they'd rather do. If people fill their week up with activities that they find they are exhausted come Sabbath- even after a Saturday off work (possibly filled with even more activities) that doesn't mean they can treat the Sabbath as the day to recover, the way students treat it as the day to recover from a weekend of drinking. One should rest and refresh oneself for the Sabbath rather than treat it as the day to recuperate from a week of over-indulgence.
 
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Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Some 40yrs,or more,I was in fellowship with one of the old type FreeChurch Ministers in his manse. He was asking me how we managed as a family having the church of about 40 meeting in our home. It entailed a Friday night prayer meeting,two worship services on the sabbath, and the moving of funiture to bring in stacking chairs from the garage. He asked how did our three young children cope being housebound during the services. I replied that on the Sabbath between meetings I would take them to stroll along the side of mountain just in front of the house. His tender and wise response was don't you think creation needs a rest upon the Lord's day. I had never thought in that way about the Sabbath.He thought it was recreation, rather than a necessity of having to walk to the house of God. To a degree I have held that position but it is something that is a matter of conscience.
 

Tyrese

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think one of the reasons the Lord's day Sabbath is being jettisoned by so many Christians today is because there's an over emphasis on this one commandment over the other 9. I for one believe that the Sabbath is to be kept holy, but not at the risk of loosing sight of what it means to be holy all of my days. The Bible says "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). I believe keeping the Sabbath is apart of being holy, however it's so much more. When you have Reformed Christians treating other days as if they have no significance at all, and completely throwing out and redefining verses like Romans 12:1, "...Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God", teaching that only the stated meetings of the Church is worship, people simply are not going to be convinced about what's permissible and what is not on the Lords day. There's some men out there who are zealous for the Lords day, but have absolutely no regard for practical holiness.

While this is true to a certain extent, I think there is a reason why the Reformed world has emphasized this commandment so much: it is the one commandment that is probably the most abused, and today most ignored. Furthermore, I would want to point readers to Vos's extraordinary insightfulness on connecting the Sabbath with the covenant in his Biblical Theology. The covenant of works was an embodiment of the OT sabbatical principle: the work comes first, then the rest. The covenant of grace is an embodiment of the NT sabbatical principle: the rest comes first before the work. Sabbath, therefore, is about a LOT more than just how we structure our weekly activities. The Sabbath is about salvation itself, and how we understand grace and works, not to mention our eschatology. The Sabbath has profound redemptive-historical ramifications.

Vox Oculi, if your position is correct, then we shouldn't work on the days of the week either, since that is forbidden by the commandment. Is there no room in your theology for something that is good at one time but NOT good at another time? Is it not wisdom to know that there is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3)? All morally good things can be done for God's glory, but not even all of those can be done at all times to the glory of God. Work can be done to the glory of God during the week, but not on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is the most abused and ignored commandment? With all the sin that's rampant in the world and in the Church I'm not sure I'm ready to say that the Sabbath is the most abused commandment. I'll let the Lord determine that one for me. In fact I'm content with not knowing the details. Our God knows everything and we can all have confidence that He will glorify Himself in the end.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
In Presbyterian circles which is all many of us can speak to, whose standards still own it, it is certainly fallen on hard times more than any of the other commands as a general category. Second commandment is a close second.
The Sabbath is the most abused and ignored commandment?
 

Tyrese

Puritan Board Sophomore
In Presbyterian circles which is all many of us can speak to, whose standards still own it, it is certainly fallen on hard times more than any of the other commands as a general category. Second commandment is a close second.
The Sabbath is the most abused and ignored commandment?

I see. To be clear I'm not saying the fourth commandment is not ignored. I'm just saying the ten commandments are being ignored as a hole (that includes the fourth commandment). Like you said 'Second commandment is close at hand.' I don't know as much about Presbyterianism as you all do, but I do know that the majority of modern day Presbyterians look like New Calvinist; who essentially deny the validity of the 10 commandments as binding on believers today.

Btw Chris, Lord willing I'll be able to purchase some of your books. I've been wanting to get some of those for some time now but my book budget is rather small at the moment.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
The Reformed seemingly obsess on the 4th because it is the foundation of the first table. Without the 4th, there is no corporate worship of God. Without the corporate worship of God, the first three cannot be obeyed. On the flip side, when the 4th is obeyed, the first three naturally flow out of it.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
When you are ready I'm sure I can make you a deal; I should say, if it is one you are interested in, the sermons of the Scottish Commissioners is near out of print; I've less than 20 left.
Btw Chris, Lord willing I'll be able to purchase some of your books. I've been wanting to get some of those for some time now but my book budget is rather small at the moment.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The Larger Catechism, answer 121: "we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments." It adds that Satan and his instruments especially aim to blot out the glory and memory of the Sabbath day. Again, answer 151, sins are aggravated "From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord's day, or other times of divine worship."
 

Tyrese

Puritan Board Sophomore
When you are ready I'm sure I can make you a deal; I should say, if it is one you are interested in, the sermons of the Scottish Commissioners is near out of print; I've less than 20 left.
Btw Chris, Lord willing I'll be able to purchase some of your books. I've been wanting to get some of those for some time now but my book budget is rather small at the moment.

Thanks Chris, I'll let you know when I'm able to purchase several books.
 
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