In this chapter:
(596-597)...General conditions at the time of the Reformation
(597-598)...A growing demand for reforms
(598).......... The Bible in the Language of the people
(598-600)...Luther’s address to the German nobility
(600-602)...The Sunday Sabbath of the Schoolmen controverter in Every Point
(602-609)...Tied to no Day in Particular that Did not Concern the Reformers
(609)..........Luther Assigns Sunday to the Common People only
(609-611)...Weakness and Inconsistency of the Position held by the Reformers
(611-612)...Review of the Theory
(612)..........Sunday Left Suspended in the Air
(612-613)...How to View the Reformers and their Work
GENERAL CONDITIONS AT THE TIME OF THE REFORMATION
From the bosom of the Roman Church itself arose the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. “Theology was a maze of scholastic subtleties, Aristotelian dialectics and idle speculations, but ignored the great doctrines of the gospel.” The church of the Middle Ages was sunken in the same rigid legalism and formalism as were the Jews at the time of our Savior. The pure teachings of the Word of God had become obscured by tradition and philosophical puerilities. The people knew more of the legends of saints than of the Word of God. Not many could read and write, and copies of the Bible were few and in an unknown tongue. Justification was sought by meritorious works, so that true faith in Christ had declined, and, as an inevitable consequence, God’s holy law was everywhere transgressed. His blessed rest day fared even worse than in the days of the Pharisees.
While the Pharisees loaded down the Sabbath with their endless and petty restrictions, yet they at least preserved the day “according to the commandment.” But after divesting God’s rest day of its honor, the papal church clothed a day of its own appointing with the seal of the Sabbath, and loaded it down with numerous canonical restrictions and civil ordinances, and then boasted of nothing more proudly than of its power in dispensing with one of God’s precepts. It, therefore, in even a much more flagrant manner than the Pharisees, made the commandments of God of none effect by its traditions, and taught the commandments of men in their stead. 1
The observance of Sunday became something meritous, by which the sins of the working-days might be expiated, and even the sufferings of souls in purgatory relieved. A multitude of festivals, instituted in imitation of the Jewish festivals, only greater in number and accompanied by observances more irksome, rested upon the necks of the people like an unbearable yoke. The true sense of the blessedness of a Sabbath rest made for man even in paradise, was entirely lost sight of among the many holidays, with which Sunday stood only on an equal footing. The rigor of many of the provisions had an effect just the opposite of that which was intended: human nature rebelled against such an arduous task, and numerous voices were raised in protest at councils preceding the Reformation.
A GROWING DEMAND FOR REFORMS
This was one of the evils demanding a reform. The tyranny of the hierarchy, rival popes, yea, even rival councils, endless controversies between the secular and the ecclesiastical powers, the corruption of the clergy, the abusers of indulgences and of the mass, -- all these had increased to such and extent before the time of the Reformation that the words of a noted Catholic express the truth when he said, “We hear from it [from this period] a thousand voices for a reformation in its head and members.”
At the councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basel a reformation of the head and of the members was the great watchword’ but the hierarchy, to its own hurt, stifled this demand for a whole century.
THE BIBLE IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE PEOPLE
One of the first aims of the Reformation was to give the Bible to the people in their own tongue, so that they might “search the Scriptures” and find the truth. In a few years the Bible had more readers among the laity than even the Latin Vulgate could boast among the priests. From the very outset, the Reformers maintained the supremacy of the Scriptures over tradition against the Roman co-ordination of the two. The following words of Luther define the correct standard:--
“All articles of faith are sufficiently laid down in the Holy Scripture, so that one has no liberty to lay down more.” 2
LUTHER’S ADDRESS TO THE GERMAN NOBILITY
The true condition of things, and their remedies, are set forth in a masterly manner in Luther’s address to the German nobility, published in July, 1520, one hundred thousand copies of which were circulated during the first month. The government of the Pope “agrees with that of the apostles as well as Lucifer with Christ, hell with heaven, night with day and yet he styles himself Christ’s vicar.” The three walls around the papal Jericho, which have been erected against a reformation, are the three exclusive claims f the Papacy to universal power, to interpret the Scriptures, and to call a council.
In twenty-seven articles Luther urges sweeping reforms:--
Besides these spiritual evils, these saints’ days inflict bodily injury on the common man in two ways: he loses a day’s work, and he spends more than usual, besides weakening his body and making himself unfit for labour, as we see every day, and yet no one tries to improve it. One should not consider whether the Pope instituted these festivals, or whether we require his dispensation or permission.
Article 23-- O Christ my Lord , look down upon this; let Thy great day of judgment come and destroy the devil’s lair at Rome. Behold him of whom St. Paul spoke (2 Thess. ii, 3, 4) that he should exalt himself above Thee and sit in Thy Church, showing himself as God—the man of sin and the son of predition.” What else does the Pope’s power do but teach and strengthen sin and wickedness, leading souls to damnation in Thy name?…
“I hope the day of judgment is even at the door; things cannot and will not become worse than the dealings of the Roman chair. The Pope treads God’s commandments under foot and exalts his own above it; if this is not antichrist, I do not know what is.
Article 25--The universities also require a decided reformation. I must say this, let it vex whom it may….very little is taught of the Holy Scriptures of the Christian faith, and the blind pagan teacher, Aristotle, rules even further than Christ?..
Our worthy theologians have saved themselves much trouble and labour by leaving the Bible alone and only reading the treatises….
Besides this, the Pope orders with many stringent words that his laws be read and used in schools and courts; while the law of the Gospel is but little considered. The result is that in schools and courts the Gospel lies dusty underneath the benches, so that the Pope’s mischievous laws may alone be in force.
Even the Fathers should only be read for a short time as an introduction to the Scriptures. As it is we read nothing else, and never get from them into the Scriptures, as if one should be gazing at the signposts and never follow the road. 3
Under the mighty blows of the Reformers, the whole framework of a Sunday Sabbath and a “new law,” reared up by the schoolmen during the Middle Ages, was levelled to the ground. With one consent they condemn every one of their positions in the strongest terms:
1. THE “NEW LAW” of the schoolmen is denounced by Melanchthon as a fictitious dream:--
....Next we will see John Calvin’s words on the “new law” theory, from his Institutes of the Christian book 2, chap. 8, #7.
In saying that this is the meaning of the Law, we are not introducing a new interpretation of our own; we are following Christ, the best interpreter of the Law (Mt. 5:22, 28, 44). The Pharisees having instilled into the people the erroneous idea that the Law was fulfilled by every one who did not in external act do anything against the Law, he pronounces this a most dangerous delusion, and declares that an immodest look is adultery, and that hatred of a brother is murder. "Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment;" whosoever by whispering or murmuring gives indication of being offended, "shall be in danger of the council;" whosoever by reproaches and evil-speaking gives way to open anger, "shall be in danger of hell-fire." Those who have not perceived this, have pretended that Christ was only a second Moses, the giver of an evangelical law, to supply the deficiency of the Mosaic Law. Hence the common axiom as to the perfection of the Evangelical Law, and its great superiority to that of Moses. This idea is in many ways most pernicious. For it will appear from Moses himself, when we come to give a summary of his precepts, that great indignity is thus done to the Divine Law. It certainly insinuates, that the holiness of the fathers under the Law was little else than hypocrisy, and leads us away from that one unvarying rule of righteousness. It is very easy, however, to confute this error, which proceeds on the supposition that Christ added to the Law, whereas he only restored it to its integrity by maintaining and purifying it when obscured by the falsehood, and defiled by the leaven of the Pharisees.
2. That one part of the fourth commandment be moral, and the other ceremonial? Calvin condemns this as sophistry of false prophets:--
4. DISPUTES of the schoolmen about the observance of Sunday are denounced by the Reformers as snares to the conscience:--
“Many writers, again, pretend that in the New Testament there ought to be a cultus similar to the Levitical. . .
…..Whence have the bishops the right to lay these traditions upon the Church for the ensnaring of consciences,…there are clear testimonies which prohibit the making of such traditions, as though they merited grace or were necessary to salvation.”
“There are monstrous disputations concerning the changing of the law, the ceremonies of the new law, the changing of the Sabbath-day, which all have sprung from the false belief that there must needs be in the Church a ”cultus” like to the Levitical, and that Christ had given commission to the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies as necessary to salvation…Some dispute that the keeping of the Lord's Day is not indeed of divine right juris divini , but quasi juris divini in a manner so. They prescribe concerning holy-days, how far it is lawful to work. What else are such disputations than snares of consciences? 7
5.“The SUPERSTITIOUS opinion that God is served with idleness” Calvin thus censures:--
But though the Reformers as a whole rejected the application of the Sabbath commandment to Sunday, as a sophistically invention of the Middle Ages, yet when closely pressed by the Romanists with their claims of authority, Archbishop Cranmner (burned at the stake in Oxford A.D. 1333) replied:--
“There be two parts of the Sabbath day: one is the outward bodily rest from all manner of labour and work; this is mere ceremonial, and was taken away with other sacrifices and ceremonies by Christ at the preaching of the gospel. The other part of the Sabbath day is the inward rest, or ceasing from sin, form our own wills and lusts, and to do only God’s will and commandments. . . This spiritual Sabbath, that is to abstain from is, and to do good, are all men bound to keep all the days of their life, and not only on the Sabbath day. And this spiritual Sabbath may no man alter nor change, no, not the whole church,” 9
Thus the Reformers, completely severed every link wherewith the schoolmen had tried to join Sunday to the Sabbath and its commandment, declared definitely that Sunday was but a mere church ordinance, devised by men.
In the Augsburg Confession we read:--
The Helvetic Confession (A.D.1566) makes the following statement:--
The Bohemian Confession (A.D. 1535) counts Sunday among the human traditions and old customs “which were still retained.” 12
The Rakauer Catechism of the Socinians says:--
“Question:--Has not Christ appointed that we should keep Sunday instead of Sabbath?
Answer:-- By no means. But as we see that Sunday has been kept by the Christians from older times, we leave the same liberty to all Christians. 13
“Although we do not in any of the apostles’ writings find any mention made that this Sunday was commanded us to keep holy; yet, because in this fourth precept of the first table we are commanded to have a care of religion and the exercising of outward godliness, it would be against all godliness and Christian charity if we should deny to sanctify the Sunday,” “I suppose also that we ought to think the same of those few feasts and holy days which we keep holy to Christ our Lord.” 14
Martin Chemnitz remarks, in his examination of the decrees of the council of Trent:--
One of the Reformers, Carlstadt, says:--
“It is, however, to be observed that with us this is not so tied to certain times, in the way it was with the Jews, as that this or that day in particular should be ordered or enjoined for it. No day is better or more excellent than another,” “And seeing that those who preceded us chose Sunday for them, this harmless and admitted custom must not be readily changed; our objects in retaining it are the securing of unanimity and consent of arrangement, and the avoidance of the general confusion which would result from individual and unnecessary innovation.”
In his sermon at Torgau, in 1544, Luther expresses this still more forcefully:--
“Since our Lord has come, we have the liberty, if Sabbath or Sunday des not please 8us, to take Monday or another day of the week and make a Sunday out of it.” 17
Tyndale claimed the same:--
“As for the Sabbath, we be lords over the Sabbath, and may yet change it into Monday, or into any other day as we see need, or may make every tenth day holy day only if we see cause why.” 18
Calvin entertained the same idea:--
“Yet I do not lay so much stress on the centenary number that I would oblige the church to an invariable adherence to it.”
The Day serves as a means of calling us together so that we may learn, to the extent we are able, to apply ourselves more fully to serving God. We are to dedicate the day entirely to him, so that we may completely withdraw from the world and that we may have a good start for the remainder of the week.
Also we should consider that it is not enough for us to meditate upon God and his works on the Lord’s Day by ourselves. Rather, we must meet together on a specified day to perform the public confession of our faith. In fact, as I said before, this should be done every day, but because of man’s spiritual immaturity and laziness it is necessary to have a special day dedicated entirely to this purpose. It is true that we are not limited to the seventh day, nor do we, in fact, keep the same day that was appointed for the Jews, since that was Saturday. But, to show the liberty of Christians, the day was changed because the resurrection of Jesus Christ set us free from the bondage to the Law and canceled the obligation to it. That is why the day was changed. Yet, we must observe the same regulation of having a specified day of the week. Whether it be one day or two is left to the free choice of Christians. 19
That they thought freely about working on Sunday is seen from the following words of Zwingli:--
Concerning the observance of Sunday and holidays, we read in article 28 of the Augsburg Confession:--
Bucer goes further yet:--
Archbishop Cranmer left the regulation of the observance with the civil authorities, as we see from his catechism, published in A.D. 1548:--
As to Calvin’s practise, Dr. Hessey mentions the following saying:--
Furthermore, it is a historical fact that Calvin had Servetus arrested on a Sunday, as Robinson attests:--
The long list of reformers who discarded the seventh-day Sabbath, worshiped upon the first day of the week, yet felt all days were equally holy, is fittingly closed with the following strong statement by Luther:--
The question as the who changed the Sabbath, and why? Concerned the Reformers so little that they were content with incidental allusions to it. Luther, all absorbed in justification by faith remarked:--
“I believe the apostles transferred Sabbath to Sunday; none else would have dared to do it. And I believe they principally did this to remove from the hearts fo the people the illusion that they were just and pious because they kept the law, and in order that they might with surety continually hold fast to the opinion that the law was not necessary to salvation.” 26
But how little Luther thought of Rev. 1:10 as an argument in behalf of Sunday, he sets forth when he was pressed to renew the Easter controversy:--
“Nor am I inclined to admit the view taken by Chrysostom, that the term Sabbath is employed here to mean the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10); for the probability is that the apostles, at the beginning, retained the day that was already in use, but that afterwards, constrained by the superstition of the Jews, they set aside that day, and substitute another. Now the Lord’s day was made choice of chiefly because our Lord’s resurrection put an end to the shadows of the law. Hence the day itself puts us in mind of our Christian liberty” 28
Dr. Th.Zahn, in summing up the position of the Reformers, says on this point:--
LUTHER ASSIGNS SUNDAY TO THE COMMON PEOPLE ONLY
What stamp the Reformers placed on this human ordinance, and for whom they thought it intended, Luther clearly demonstrates in his introduction to the Sabbath commandment:--
But in order that the simple may grasp and obtain a Christian view of what God requires in this commandment, notice that we keep holy days, not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of it [holy days]), but first for the sake of the body and its necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.
Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear the Word of God and practice it, and to praise God, to sing and pray. 30
WEAKNESS AND INCONSISTENCY OF THE POSITION HELD BY THE REFORMERS
A Lutheran author, Pastor Rische, thus justly criticizes Luther’s postion:
“Is the threatening of Divine punishment to the transgressor to be based on such reasoning? Will one with such reasoning explain the existence of Sunday for the last thousand years? Furthermore, is it truly evangelical to make such a difference between the learned and the masses of the common people? Is not that right for one, that is just for another? Is that really truth-- to make differences based on such accidental conditions, because the learned had perhaps more time in that age during the week, and therefore he had no need of keeping Sunday to all eternity, while on the other hand the common man must rest because he had been labouring on the seek-days? And if the latter, accidentally , should have more free time, what then? Do the Scriptures anywhere make any such differences? 31
The following apology made by Richard Baxter for the Reformers, is significant:--
The highest Lutheran authority in Prussia stated, in a memorial submitted to the government in 1850, calling for more rigid Sunday laws:--
“During the time of the Reformation, the doctrine of the Christian Sunday was left incomplete.” 33
Hessey offers the following criticism
REVIEW OF THE THEORY
The sum total of the position of the Reformers is that Sunday was a quasi-imitation of the Sabbath, but not a continuation. It was in no manner commanded of God, but rather an ordinance of the church, as is seen by the silence of the New Testament and the practise of the ancient Christians. The Reformers never claimed that Sabbath observance was inseparably bound to the first day of the week on account of the resurrection or any other event, but, on the contrary, being an ecclesiastical institution invented simply for the good of the people, it might be changed to any day in the week, as circumstances might demand. Nor was it thought to be sinful to do any work on Sunday, after having attended divine service. In fact, the institution existed only for the common working people, that they might have some bodily rest.
SUNDAY LEFT SUSPENDED IN THE AIR
The Reformers’ ideas of a rest day were incomplete and unsatisfactory. In tearing down the sophistically theory whereon scholasticism had built up a Sunday Sabbath in the Middle Ages, they swept away all the foundation Sunday had, and left Sunday hanging as it were. This is seen form the words of Mosheim:--
“The church we say, has ordained Sunday. We are bound to submit ourselves to her authority. How weak is this prop! Jesus has freed us from the ordinances of men; the church has not right to make laws.” 35
The reformers, while rejecting the scholastic Sunday theory, did not succeed in substituting another doctrine, clear, precise, logical, and practical, because their starting-point and basis were contrary to their own principles. Whenever they made the Bible their guide, every effort of theirs was crowned with success; when they deviated, a failure was sure to follow,-- an “incomplete,” “inaccurate,” unsuccessful reformation.
HOW TO VIEW THE REFORMERS AND THEIR WORK
The impropriety of making the Reformers the standard of divine truth, and the legacy they left to their successors, are forcibly set forth by Dr. Priestly:--
“Luther and Calvin reformed many abuses, especially in the disciple of the church, and also some gross corruptions in doctrine; but they left other things of far greater moment just as they found them. . .It was great merit in them to go as far as they did, and it is not they, but we, who are to blame if their authority induces us to go no further. We should rather imitate them in the boldness and spirit with which they called in question and rectified so many long- established errors, and availing ourselves of their labours, make further progress than they were able to do. Little reason have we to allege their name, authority, and example, when they did a great deal, and we do nothing at all. In this we are not imitating them, but those who opposed and counteracted them, willing to keep things as they were.” 36
1. Matt. 15: Return>
2. Luther’s works, Erlanger Augs. 31,122 Return>
3. Erlang, Augs. 21, pp. 274-360 Return>
4. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, written 1531, art. 27 (13) Return>
5. Calvin’s Institutes, book 2, chap. 8, sec. 34 Return>
6. Augsburg Confession, art. 28 Return>
7. Id. Return>
8. 34th Sermon on Deut., quoted in Cox, I, 409 Return>
9. Quoted in Cox. I, 135 Return>
10.Augsburg Confession, art. 28 Return>
11.Helvetic Confession, Chap. 24 concerning holidays. Return>
12.Niemeyer, Coll, Conf. P. 808 Return>
13. Catech, Racov. Edition, Oeder, p. 462 Return>
14.The Decades, Cambridge 1849, 2, 259, 260 Return>
15.Exam, Council Trident de Festis, sec. 3 Return>
16. Ven dem Sabbath und gebotenen Feiertagen chap. 10 Return>
17. Erlang, Augs, 17 Return>
18. Answer to More, b. I chapt. 25 Return>
19.Institutes, b. 2, chapt. 8, sec. 34 and 34th Sermon on Deut. Delivered in 1555 Return>
20.Saemtliche Schriften, Zurish, 1819, I, 523 Return>
21.Com. On Matt., chap. 12 published in 1530 Return>
22.Quoted in Cox, Sab Laws and Duties, p. 289 Return>
23.Bampton Lectures, p. 366, note 449 Return>
24.Eccl. Researches, chap, 10, p. 338 Return>
25.Table Talk quoted in Bampton Lectures, p. 166, by Dr. Hessey Return>
26.Tischreden,Leipzig, 1732 p. 437, see 454 Return>
27.Erlan, Augs. 25. 333, concerning councils, 1539 Return>
28.Calvin’s Commentary on 1 or. 16:2 Return>
29.Geshichte des Sonntags, p. 47 Return>
30.Larger Catechism, Erlang. Aig.s 21, 48 Return>
31.Die Sonntagsruhe, p. 78 Return>
32.The Divine Appt., p. 127 quoted in Bampton Lectures, by Hesey p. 166-7 Return>
33.Denkschrift des evang. Oberkirchenrats, p. 6 Return>
34.Sunday, Bampton lectures, p. 165, 166 Return>