The Morality Of The Sabbath -- By: Michael Borg

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: The Morality Of The Sabbath
Author: Michael Borg

The Morality Of The Sabbath

Michael Borg

Before the rise of Puritan theology and the Puritans’ strict observance of the Sabbath, Sabbatarianism as a doctrine primarily concerned the Roman Catholic Church.1 In modern England, the question concerning the Sabbath became twofold: “Both to the manner and to the day of observance.”2 During the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas argued that the fourth commandment, though moral, was shrouded in a ceremonial aspect that affected both the Sabbath’s manner and the day; this became the universal opinion among theologians.3 Under the New Testament, Christians were no longer bound by the ceremonial aspect, but the moral kernel alone.

Arguably, even Reformers such as Luther and Calvin thought undue Sabbath keeping was not in accord with Christian liberty.4 This continental mindset prevailed in English Protestantism through the mid-sixteenth century. But by the latter half of the 1500s, widespread dissatisfaction had begun to spread throughout England. Katz notes the words of Richard Fletcher, citing that these words embodied the growing disfavor of anti-Sabbatarianism: “It is no greater a sin to steal a horse on Monday then to sell him in fayre on the Sunday; that it is as ill to play at games as shouting, bowling on Sunday as to lie with your neighbors wife on Monday.”5 It was from this context that the Puritan defense of Sabbatarianism arose—though

not all Puritans were so deft in defending and siding with this growing tension.

The controversy over the rightful keeping of the Sabbath in the days of the Puritans was closely connected with political, practical, and doctrinal concerns.6 Walter Douglas argues that following the Hampton Court Conference (1604), the Puritans “earnestly pleaded for a thorough reform of Sunday observance that would reflect the practice of the primitive Christian church and the harmony of the scriptural injunctions enjoined upon all Christians.”7 Much of the Puritan consternation over the Sabbath was fueled by King James I’s publication, The Book of Sports, and later, under the influence of Archbishop Laud, King Charles’s concurring publication.8

The Puritan outcry against The Book of Sports was great and loud. Th...

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