Recreation on the Lord’s Day

“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord…”

Isa. 58:13-14

“Nehemiah…  said unto them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’…  And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth…”

Neh. 8:9-12

“…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed.”

Ex. 31:17



Order of Contents

Intro & Westminster Only Prohibits Needless Worldly Recreations
Prohibited Recreations  15
Lawful Recreation  10+
.     Spiritual Recreation  4
.     Refreshment  15+
Children  4
Historical  6



Intro & Westminster Only Necessarily Prohibits Needless
Worldly Recreations on the Lord’s Day

Travis Fentiman

Updated 11-14-23



Kinds of Employments
Reformed Divines
Westminster Divines
Book of Sports
Process & Committees
Consensus Documents
Directory for Public Worship
The Principle
Natural Worship
Nature’s Light & Christian Prudence  WCF 1.6
Westminster’s Catechisms
Commentary on the Confession
Commentaries on the Shorter Catechism
Subjectivity, Playing Catch, Making Love




As we are to keep the Lord’s Day holy unto the Lord (Gen. 2:1-4; Ex. 20:8-11; Isa. 58:13-14; Mt. 28:1-9; Jn. 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10), and that for the whole day, is there any place for recreation on it?  Some persons see no problem with this outside of public worship; others answer “no,” citing Westminster’s “no recreation” clause (WCF 21.8).

That recreations (including organized sports) are not a proper work of the Lord’s Day, as argued at length from Scripture by many puritans below in the section, ‘Prohibited Recreations’, will be taken for granted.  Our focus will be upon the second view.

If one were to ask that view’s modern proponents whether recreation might ever be necessary, and hence allowed on the Sabbath (WCF 21.8), their answer still may be “no.”  Some may make exceptions for children, but none for adults.  Some may allow recreation for palliating ill-health, but not otherwise; certainly not for the average person.  Some would argue there is no place for recreation as the whole day is to be taken up in public or private worship ordinances (this is not quite what Westminster says, as will be explained).  All these variations (and similar ones), for lack of a better term, may be called the wood-box view.¹

¹ Many who take the wood-box view may simply not know any better, or cannot synthesize all the issues, though they wish they could, which is understandable.  While there were many puritans who stated in a given context “no recreations,” without further elaboration, yet if they were asked, they may have qualified this.  That is very different from contemporary persons who explicitly maintain “no recreations” against qualifications, or do not accept qualifications beyond what is above.  For the older reformed divines that clearly did take the wood-box view, this article argues against them.

The same persons, though, if you were to ask whether they might eat scrumptuous food instead of plain food on the Lord’s Day, or listen to classical music while reading Scripture or godly literature, or take a walk on the beautiful spring day, or go out for a picnic on the hill with Christian friends, or enjoy the scenery on a boat at the lake, may or may not say, “Well, I don’t have a problem with that.”  Sitting on a chair for most of the Day, whether for children or adults, is often more stressful on the body and less restful and refreshing than light activity.  The issue most often put before presbyteries by ordinands, it seems, is playing catch with a football with one’s son in the yard.  Whether one may make love to one’s spouse on the Lord’s Day should be of concern to conscientious Christians.  These last two cases will be answered with nuance at the end of this article.

The wood-box view (which will be demonstrated not to be the conclusion of Westminster and many puritans) is clearly at odds with, and cannot explain the complexities of real life: this is a big problem.  Besides the subjectivity of proponents making exceptions to the wood-box, possibly arbitrarily, those who try to be more and more consistent with the box end up constraining themselves and others to an unnatural and Scripturally unwritten legalism.

How does one determine what pleasurable activity, refreshment or recreation is consistent with the Lord’s Day, and what is not?  That will be answered in metaphysical precision,¹ fully consonant with and applicable to all the complexities of life, in whatever way they present themselves, so you may be sure you are fulfilling the Lord’s pleasure, his worship and your designed good on his Day.  So far from this being a looser veiw of the Sabbath, it is a fuller keeping of it with the Lord receiving more of our worship; the wood-box view will be seen to be loose and a short-coming of the Commandment.

¹ Too often this subject is treated by listing material recreations which are either illicit or licit for the Sabbath, while the underlying principle(s) go unspoken, if even recognized, or the principles are so broad they don’t answer specific circumstances.  To get to the heart of the issue one must go below material activities to the precise, metaphysical principles of the Lord’s Day which govern any and all particular activities.

Though this academic article is not exegetical (for that see some of the puritan material below), but focused on the original intent of Westminster, you will see its teaching is consistent with Scripture, and most fully so.  Many of the relevant ethical and practical issues will be synthesized as key principles for the proper historical interpretation of Westminster are laid forth.



It is frequently thought Westminster Confession 21.8 (below) prohibits all recreations on the Sabbath.†

† While Lane Keister comes to a mainly sound conclusion in his article, The Sabbath Day & Recreations on the Sabbath…  in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8… Confessional Presbyterian, #5 (2009), p. 323, allowing for recreation “conducive to worship” (this qualification being set in the context of children), yet he interprets the Confession as teaching “no recreation” simply, and does not see the recreations prohibited as qualified by “worldly”.  He also claims the “no recreation” view is “the divines’ conclusion” (p. 237).  This is false, as is demonstrated by works of the Westminster divines lower on this webpage.

This understanding of the Confession is largely due to the placement of a comma in the relevant confessional sentence.  Yet notice in what is prohibited in that sentence in WCF 21.8, “worldly” may, and, as will be argued, likely does qualify “recreations,” despite the two words and comma in-between.

WCF 21.8  “The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments, and recreations,¹ but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

¹ Ex. 20:8; Ex. 16:23,25,26,29,30; 31:15-17; Isa. 58:13; Neh. 13:15-19,21,22

That Westerminster only prohibited worldly recreations was the view of the early-1700’s, renowned Scottish, evangelical and Sabbatarian minister, John Willison (d. 1750).  He interpreted the Biblical locus classicus on this subject, Isa. 58:13-14, in like manner.†  It has also been evidenced by the modern reformed minister and seminary professor, Morton H. Smith (1923–2017), a leading proponent of strict subscription to the Church’s doctrinal standards: “Isaiah includes ‘doing our own pleasure’ which our [Westminster] Catechism [#117 & 119] interprets as a reference to worldly recreations.”‡  That the Westminster Assembly only necessarily prohibited needless worldly recreations will be argued here in detail.

† Willison, A Treatise Concerning the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day…  3rd ed.  (1716; Edinburgh: Lumisden, 1745), pp. 73 bot. & 75 bot.

‡ Morton Smith, “A Call for a Return to Sabbath Observance” a tract (Taylors, SC: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, n.d.), pp. 4-5

For those who have had an alternate understanding: do not be too shocked.  “Worldly,” from the background literature (a good chunk of which is available on this webpage), often (though not always) was synonymous with “bodily,”¹ (as “carnal” often was)² or referred to the things of this world¹ (as Willison).  Hence Westminster prohibiting only worldly recreations could be prohibitive of near-all bodily recreations for some.

However, “worldly”¹ (and “carnal”)² did sometimes bear only the ethical sense of things abused in a worldly way, allowing for some natural recreation with the things of this world.³  Westminster’s ambiguity was likely deliberate, facilitating consensus, and divines agreeing in this language not infrequently differed in the practical minutia.

¹ Also confirmed in The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary… (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), vol. II, P-Z, pp. 305-6, “Wordly”

² Compact Oxford English Dictionary, vol I, A-O, p. 123, “Carnal”

³ e.g. John Downame in ‘Lawful Recreation’ below.


Westminster & Commas

The relevant comma is in early editions of the Westminster Confession.†

† e.g. B.B. Warfield’s third edition (1648), published in The Westminster Standards: an Original Fascimile (Auburn, NJ: Old Paths Publications, 1997), p. 39.  It is also in the critical text of S.W. Carruthers, The Westminster Confession of Faith, being an Account… (Manchester: Aikman, 1937), p. 132.

The Westminster standards regularly use commas before “and”, especially in lists (such as in WCF 21.8), more so than we commonly do today.  Similar language occurs in the Larger Catechism in the following instances, where it is clear what comes after the comma followed by an “and” is qualified by what comes before it:

#81  “through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions;”

#89  “the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels

#95  “the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives

#113  “God’s truth, grace, and ways

#119  “by all needless works, words, and thoughts

#128  “their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections

#139  “all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections

The Shorter Catechism has similar instances:

#4  “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

#21  “…so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person…”

#36  “flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification

#44  “…God is the Lord, and our God…”

#49  “shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

#50  “requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure…”

#71  “requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbour’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behaviour.”

#72  “forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.”

#88  “his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer;”

The same pattern is in the Confession itself:

1.1  “that knowledge of God, and of his will

6.4  “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good”

14.3  “many ways assailed, and weakened,”

18.4  “divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted

21.8  “their own works, words, and thoughts

22.6  “out of faith, and conscience of duty

33.1  “their thoughts, words, and deeds

Notice the phenomenon does not only occur in lists of three or more items, but also with related pairs, as in WCF 21.8.

If the relevant comma were removed from WCF 21.8, the paragraph would still prohibit worldly recreations simply insofar as “works, words, and thoughts about their worldly…  recreations” are still forbidden for the Sabbath.  This is parallel to “worldly employments” being prohibited outright, not because it stands alone, but because “works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments” are prohibited.

The relevant comma in WCF 21.8 (likely placed there deliberately) may best be interpreted softly, it serving a double function: “works, words and thoughts about their worldly…  recreations” are prohibited, as well as “their own…  worldly…  recreations” themselves.


Different Kinds of Employments

The Assembly’s qualifying of “employments” by “worldly” appears deliberate, and relevant.  Various kinds of employments were recognized in that era.  Thomas Gataker, Joseph Alleine and Thomas Vincent, quoted and referenced below, spoke of “spiritual employments” being appropriate to the Lord’s Day.  Thomas Manton, who wrote the preface, “To the Christian Reader” for the 2nd London edition of the standards in 1658, which accompanied many editions after that, also spoke of “spiritual employments.”¹

¹ Manton, A Fourth Volume containing One Hundred and Fifty Sermons…  (London: J.D., 1693), Several Sermons upon Titus 2:11-14, Sermon 5, p. 45.

That the prohibition of “employments” on the Lord’s Day was, and needed to be, qualified, lends support that “recreations” was also liable to and needing qualification.


Reformed Divines

As background to Westminster’s context, before and after the Assembly, the following British reformed divines and puritans specified what recreations were prohibited on the Sabbath:

John Downame

“…all kinds of recreations [are prohibited] which are not necessary for the preserving of health and life, and tend not to the better fitting and enabling of us for religious duties, but to sensual and carnal delight…  because these worldly recreations do more dangerously and cunningly wind into our hearts…”

“Section 3, That on the Lord’s Day we must abstain from carnal recreations…  with vain sports and worldly recreations…  the exercises of the Sabbath before spoken of, are the best recreations for the cheering of the heart and mind.”  A Guide to Godliness or a Treatise of a Christian Life…  (London: Kingstone [1622]), ch. 39, sections 2 & 3, pp. 383-85

George Abbot

“But Bishop [Francis] White…  objects against Sunday Sabbatizers’ precepts (as he calls them) concerning the crying down of carnal recreations, and setting up spiritual duties…”  Vindiciæ sabbathi [Vindication of the Sabbath]…  (London: I.D., 1641), ch. 1, p. 65

The Old Puritan, Godly, Honest & Loyal ([London, 1642?]), p. 5

“He keeps the Sabbath sanctified…  he rests upon it…  from the ordinary works of his calling, from carnal recreations…”

Thomas Gouge

“II. By resting from all worldly recreations; as shooting, bowling, wrestling, ringing, dancing…”  The Principles of Christian Religion, question 61, 4th Commandment  in The Works…  into One Volume  (d. 1681; London: Bradyll, 1706), p. 538

Ezekiel Hopkins

“The Lord’s Day is therefore to be observed…  Nor will this give any scope to the Libertinism of those who would willingly indulge themselves, either in worldly affairs, or loose recreations on this Day.”  An Exposition on the Ten Commandments (London: Ranew, 1691), 4th Commandment, p. 225

Thomas Dorrington

“…the use of worldly pleasure and recreation on this Day, is as largely forbid as worldly labor and business, that is, entirely;”  The Religious Observation of Sabbaths…  in Family Devotions for Sunday Evenings…  (London: Wyat, 1695), vol. 4, p. 35

While it is acknowledged solid, reformed divines of the era often did speak of “recreations” simply, even “honest recreations” (in contrast to immoral ones), as prohibited on the Lord’s Day, yet, as is documented below on this webpage in the section ‘Lawful Recreation,’ they often qualified this, specifying what kind of recreation may be lawful, namely spiritual recreations and recreations which are subordinated, beneficial to and subservient to the spiritual employments of the Sabbath.  Recreations of this kind, i.e. not worldly, may have a degree of moral necessity (Mt. 12:1)† unto the purpose and full benefit of the Sabbath, and hence are entailed in the obligation to keep the Sabbath.

† See ‘What Constitutes Necessity?’ at ‘On Works of Necessity & Mercy on the Sabbath’ (RBO).


Westminster Divines

In the ‘Lawful Recreation’ section below, it is also seen that numerous of the Westminster divines themselves, such as William Twisse (the Assembly’s first prolocutor), Jeremiah Burroughs, Richard Byfield, Herbert Palmer, Daniel Cawdrey and George Walker, likewise taught that spiritual employments were a form of recreating and/or that some bodily recreation was lawful on the Lord’s Day, namely that which is consistent with and beneficial to spiritual employments (and hence is not worldly).  Remember these names and those that follow, as they will be mentioned often below in the drawing up of the Confession and Catechisms.

Walker describes and gives examples of lawful recreation:

“…whatsoever recreations and exercises of body and mind are necessar[il]y required for the bettering of our sanctification of the Lord’s day and the enabling of us to perform with more cheerfulness, strength and courage the holy worship of God, and the work and service of his holy Sabbath, and which are also intended by us only to that end and use, them we may use, and so far as they serve to further and in no wise to hinder God’s holy worship and the immediate works and duties thereof.

This is manifest by God’s allowing to his people in the Law dressing of meat [Ex. 12:16; Neh. 8:9-12] and cheerful feasting on his Sabbath [Dt. 12:7, 18; Lk. 14:1, 7-8, 13, 15-17, 24] and holy days [e.g. Dt. 14:26]: which are needful to cheer up men, and to provoke them to worship Him with all thankfulness of heart, also to put on our best apparel that we may come decently to God’s house.

As these are lawful, being directed to holy use, so undoubtedly honest refreshing with recreations which cheer up the heart and refresh the spirits are lawful when they are helpful to holy exercises and are directed to that end, as stirring of the body, walking into gardens or fields to take fresh air, being found very helpful to preachers to revive their spirits, strengthen their loins, clear their voices, sharpen and quicken their wits and memories; and being done only to that end are lawful.

So also walking into the corn fields in summer or harvest, or into meadows or pastures in the spring, both to refresh our bodies and spirits, and to give us occasion to admire God’s bounty in clothing the bodies, and his Fatherly providence in making the earth so fruitful, and to laud and praise Him, is lawful for us.

And if after public and private exercise we do so walk about, diverse together, conferring of heavenly things and taking occasion by sight of earthly blessings to provoke one another to thankfulness and acknowledgment of God’s love, this no doubt is a recreation fit for the Lord’s day, and helps much our devotion; and this seems to have been practiced by our Savior, who went through the corn fields on the Sabbath day, Mt. 12:1, and his disciples with them.”  The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (1638), ch. 21, pp. 158-59

Before, during and after the sitting of the Assembly, the following Westminster divines specified what recreations were prohibited on the Sabbath:

Thomas Gataker

“The Sabbath indeed is a day of rest, but of holy rest; of rest not to worldly recreations but to heavenly meditations, of rest to religious and spiritual employments.”  Of the Nature & Use of Lots… (London: Griffin, 1619), ch. 8, p. 248

John Ley

On Ex. 20, v. 10

“‘not do any work’ Of thy ordinary calling, nor of thy carnal recreations…”

On Lev. 19, v. 30

“The Sabbath is not to be profaned…  many of later times…  when they allowed carnal recreations on the Sabbath day…”  English Annotations upon All the Books of the Old & New Testament…  (London: Legatt, 1645)

Thomas Case

“We are forbidden the finding of our own pleasure [Isa. 58:13-14]…  whatsoever is pleasing to unregenerate nature and inclinations, whether they be bodily labor or carnal recreations, profit, or pleasures, sports, or the works of our callings…

Carnal sports and pleasures are as great a profanation of the Sabbath, as the most servile labour and drudgery in the world.”  Sermon 6, ‘Of Sabbath Sanctification’ in ed. Samuel Annesley, A Supplement to The Morning-Exercise at Cripple-Gate…  (London: Cockerill, 1676), pp. 133, 139

Ley’s excerpts above are specially significant as they were published in 1645, the year before the Confession (without Scripture proofs) was completed and presented to the English House of Commons on Dec. 4, 1646.  The English Annotations, which they were contained in, were commissioned by the English Parliament, which had also commissioned the Westminster Assembly.  As six of the eleven commentators of the Annotations were Assembly members, and worked on these Annotations during the sitting of the Assembly, under the general editorship of William Gouge, an assembly member and “the father of the London [presbyterian] ministers,”† so “many” in their own day (wrongly) took the Annotations “to be the work of the Assembly.”  The popular Annotations, going through three editions (1645, 1651, 1657-1658), were “commonly” known in that period as the Westminster Annotations, so strong was the association in the popular mind.‡

Dictionary of National Biography (1885-1900), ‘Gouge, William’

‡ Richard Muller, ‘Scripture & the Westminster Confession’ in Richard Muller & Rowland Ward, Scripture & Worship: Biblical Interpretation & the Directory for Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2007), pp. 4-5, 11


Parliament Banning the King’s Book of Sports

Before tracing the history of the making of the Confession, Directory of Public Worship and Catechisms, the context will be set in light of the English Book of Sports.

In 1618, in opposition to the “puritans and precise people,” King James enacted a declaration “concerning lawful sports to be used” on the Lord’s Day after the afternoon worship service, known as the Book of Sports, under the pretense of “lawful recreations, and honest exercises.”  This was republished in 1633 by King Charles.

The mostly puritan Long Parliament in 1644, during the sitting of Westminster, published, An Ordinance…  For the better Observation of the Lord’s-Day, in which the Book of Sports “and all other books and pamphlets…  against the morality of the Fourth Commandment, or of the Lords-day…  be called in, seized and suppressed, and publicly burnt…”

While the ordinance bans many specific sports, pastimes and other public activities, it only uses the term “recreation” descriptively in relation to the King’s Book of Sports (which liberally used the term) and does not forbid recreation simply.  For instance, the ordinance does not disallow common recreations of that time, such as walking in a field or gardens, listening to music, attending feasts, etc.  These details are often overlooked but are significant and will be very relevant to the history that follows.


Westminster’s Process & Committees

Gataker, quoted above, along with Burroughs, Palmer, Ley, Gouge and Newcomen (to be quoted below) were on the committee commissioned in 1644 to prepare matter for the Confession of Faith.¹  When it came time in May of 1645 to write the first draught of the Confession, involving the recreations clause, Gataker, Gouge and Palmer were on that committee.³

¹ eds. Alexander Mitchell & John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly…  (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1874), p. lxxxvii

³ eds. Mitchell & Strughters, Minutes, p. 91

In July, 1645, a new committee was appointed:

“‘to take care of the wording of the Confession,’ as its articles should be voted in the several sessions of the Assembly, but according to the understood rule they were to communicate with the Scotch Commissioners and to report to the Assembly any changes in the wording of the sentences which they deemed necessary…”  (Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly: its History & Standards… Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1897, Lecture 10, p. 368)

After this the body of the Confession in its various heads was handed over from this smaller committee to three larger committees.  The heads of religion and worship went to the third committee,³ which included Gataker.ª  The reports of the drafts of these heads were subsequently brought before the Assembly and discussed.  That “of religious worship, and the the Sabbath day” was debated in the early months of 1646, but very little is recorded of it in the minutes.†

³ Ibid., pp. 368-69

ª eds. Mitchell & Strughters, Minutes, p. lxxxv

† Mitchell, Westminster Assembly, pp. 371-72; idem, Minutes, p. 318; ed. Chad Van Dixhoorn, The Minutes & Papers of the Westminster Assembly 1643-1652 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3.770-75, March 9-10, 1646, sessions 601-2

After the content of the articles had been further digested and arranged by the committees, in June 1646 the Assembly “resolved to go over the Confession again…  to revise and perfect the wording of them.”  This was done by the Confession being read before the Assembly in parts.º  In September 1646, Cawdrey was “added to the committee for the perfecting of the Confession of Faith.”³

º Mitchell, Westminster Assembly, p. 372

³ Session 696, Sept. 1, 1646 in William Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, 5th ed. Robert Williamson (NY: Anson Randolph, 1890), Note B, p. 431


Consensus Documents

As the Assembly approved the material put before it “if the major part assent,”º so the Westminster standards were by their nature consensus documents.  As many opinions existed in the Assembly on strikingly many things, as the debates in the minutes show, what was positively asserted as true by the Assembly tended towards being the lowest common denominator that the majority could agree on.  Likewise, what was finally prohibited by the Westminster standards tended towards what the majority of the Assembly could agree, by the least common denominator, was immoral.  The process described in the minutes of the Assembly of continually qualifying and taking exceptions to and modifying the proposed propositions manifests this.

º S.W. Carruthers, The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly  (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1943), 8th rule from Parliament, p. 47.  That this occured in practice: p. 54.

As is evident from the Westminster divines’ writings and the following example in the minutes, there was detailed variety in the Assembly as to what was allowed and forbidden on the Lord’s Day.  Not all were of the opinion that all recreation was prohibited on the Sabbath (this is especially true of the more mainline Anglican members).†

† Twisse, in the larger contexts of his quotes below on this page, allowed for certain sports on the Sabbath (which is not recommended here and is prohibited by Westminster’s Directory).


The Westminster Directory
for the Public Worship of God

To take a step back for a moment, Westminster worked intensively on finishing its Directory for the Publick Worship of God before it did the Confession.  In the minutes respecting the Directory the following occurs about the Lord’s Day (Nov., 1644):

“Second Prop[osition]. ‘To abstain from all unnecessary labours, worldly sports, and recreations.’

The debate upon this was, about putting in prohibition of worldly discourses; and some moved to add, ‘worldly thoughts.'” (John Lightfoot, The Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines… ed. John Pitman, London: Dove, 1824, p. 328)

Note in the proposition that “unnecessary” likely qualifies all three items listed after it, as anything necessary is by defintion allowed on the Lord’s Day (and that Westminster divines believed some recreations may be necessary is amply documented).  If it is asked how worldly sports could ever be necessary on the Lord’s Day, it is answered that many mainline Anglicans argued that such were necessary for poor laboring people and servants who had no time for recreation during the week.  As one puritan said, in a different context under the Sixth Commandment, one can kill a man in more ways than with a knife.  Puritans typically responded that the objection did not justify worldly sports on the Lord’s Day because, amongst other reasons, masters ought to only work their laborers moderately and give them time for recreation on their own time, namely the rest of the week.‡

‡ e.g. William Perkins, The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience… (Cambridge: John Legat, 1606), ch. 16, section 1, case 1, pp. 460-61; Downame, Guide to Godliness, ch. 38, section 3, p. 385; Richard Baxter, The Divine Appointment of the Lords Day Proved… (London: Simmons, 1671), ch. 10, pp. 118-20

It is seen how ambiguous the proposition is, persons being able to put different grammatical constructions on it, especially in light of the commas.  That “worldly” may qualify recreations here is possible, especially as: (1) the further debate was concerned with including prohibiting worldly discourses and worldly thoughts, and (2) the assembly in the same session went on to “Debate about feasting on the sabbath day,”¹ which practice Marshall, Temple and Lightfoot supported, citing “…Christ’s feasting, Luke xiv. [vv. 1, 7-8, 13, 15-17, 24] and in his feasting,–at least, dining,–with all his disciples in Peter’s house, Matt. viii. [vv. 14-16]”²

¹ ed. Dixhoorn, Minutes & Papers, 3.447

² Lightfoot, Proceedings of the Assembly, p. 328.  This was a common allowance in the reformed and puritan literature of the era, they citing more Scripture texts for it (e.g. Neh. 8:9-12).

In the end, the Directory (see “On the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day”), did not explicitly mention “recreations,” though it did forbid “all sports and pastimes…  also…  all worldly words and thoughts.”  As “recreations” got cut from the Directory, and “pastimes” got put in its place (“all” no doubt not only qualifiying “sports”, but also “all…  pastimes”), it would seem there was more unanimity on the disallowance of “all sports and pastimes” on the Sabbath than for “recreations.”

Yet later when the Confession and Catechisms were passed, it is evident the majority of the Assembly agreed that at least needless worldly recreations on the Lord’s Day were illicit.  “Worldly…  recreations” replaced “all sports and pastimes” perhaps as “worldly recreations” encompassed “all sports and pastimes,” but was more extensive.



The Directory’s minutes continue, speaking of “refreshing”:

“Sixth Prop. ‘Between the times of public worship, after a little time for refreshing, the time to be spent in reading, meditation,’ etc.

Now this was thought impossible, in regard of the distance of many houses from the church: therefore it was added at large, ‘that what time is vacant in the whole day from the public worship, should be spent in reading, singing, repetitions,’ etc.” (Ibid., p. 329)

While “refreshing” got cut from this part of the Directory, what replaced it, “what time is vacant in the whole day,” evidences that the divines considered “a little time for refreshing” not to be vacant time, but something necessary.

“Refreshing” was preserved in the Directory under the head, “Concerning the Observation of Days of Publick Thanksgiving,” which days were to be filled with the same sorts of things as the Lord’s Day.

“…let him dismiss the congregation with a blessing, that they may have some convenient time for their repast [meal] and refreshing.

But the minister (before their dismission) is solemnly to admonish them to beware of all excess and riot, tending to gluttony or drunkenness, and much more of these sins themselves, in their eating and refreshing; and to take care that their mirth and rejoicing be not carnal, but spiritual…”

As is seen in the writings of many reformed, puritan and Westminster divines below in the section, ‘Refreshment’, refreshment was not limited to eating, but was conceptual, including many sorts of natural and bodily refreshment considered to be necessary for their relative physical benefit.  The term also encompassed spiritual refreshments, as comes up often in their writings.  Numerous of the divines (e.g. John Wells below) derive this principle of refreshment, besides from nature’s light and law, from Ex. 31:17:

“…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed.”

Though this verse speaks anthropomorphically of God, yet God’s actions on that first Sabbath are an example and rule to us (Ex. 20:11).


The Principle

Puritans, not to mention others, at times used “recreations” and “refreshments” interchangeably.†  Sometimes puritans prohibited all recreations, and yet qualified that, allowing some recreations.¹  Sometimes they prohibited all bodily, or carnal refreshments and pleasures,² and yet allowed some bodily refreshments and pleasures.³  What then decided whether a recreation or refreshment was allowed or prohibited?

† Examples of puritans with a Westminster divine: Downame, Guide to Godliness, bk. 3, pp. 270-71, 275-76; George Walker, The Doctrine of the Sabbath (Amsterdam, 1638), ch. 21, p. 158; John Wells, The Practical Sabbatarian… (London: 1668), “To the Reader” & ch. 4, p. 33; Christopher Ness, The Crown & Glory of a Christian… (London: Newman, 1676), 89.  On the royal, non-puritan, Book of Sports: James T. Dennison, Jr., The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532–1700 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983), p. 88.

¹ ‘Lawful Recreation’
² e.g. Henry Burton, The Law and the Gospell Reconciled… (London: Slatter, 1631), 65; Thoms Gouge, The Young Man’s Guide…  (London: Simmons, 1676), ch. 21, p. 118; Thomas Taylor, Peter his Repentance… (London: Bartlet, 1653), 33; Wells, Practical Sabbatarian, “To the Reader”
³ Refreshment

This is still the practical question today.  Setting aside needful recreation or refreshment primarily for man’s benefit, a common answer of the reformed and puritans, implicitly or explictly, was recreation or refreshment was lawful if it served a suitable natural good and was consistent with,º and not distracting from the purpose of the Day, the direct honor or worship of God (Isa. 56:4-7; 58:13-14; 66:23).¹

º John Corbet: “Excess in the quantity or measure of religious observances is…  too rigid a pressing of religious exercises on the Lord’s Day…  contrary to…  that conveniency to life and converse which does not divert the mind from the things of God…”  Of Divine Worship, pt. 3, section 1 in The Remains... (London: Parkhurst, 1684), pp. 209-10

¹ Examples of recreation prohibited as distracting: Abbot, Vindiciæ sabbathi, ch. 3, 92; Thomas Adams, The Main Principles of Christian Religion… (London, 1675), ch. 2, p. 104; Downame, Guide to Godliness, bk. 3, ch. 22, p. 273; John White, A Commentary upon the Three First Chapters of…  Genesis (London: Streater, 1656), ch. 2, verse 3, p. 15.  For recreation as fulfilling a suitable natural good and consistent with the purpose of the Sabbath, see ‘Lawful Recreation’ below.

Strong or intensive bodily (or “carnal”) pleasures and exertions, as the puritans constantly guarded, take one’s focus off of the Lord and spiritual things.  Hence worldly recreations of this kind are inconsistent with and distracting from the Lord’s Day’s purpose of spiritual recreation: “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” (Ps. 119:24)

However, if there is an option of God’s worship simply, or God’s worship with a greater, suitable natural benefit consistent therewith, not distracting from it, the will by nature’s light (revealing God’s will), inclines to the greater good, especially if it contributes to greater rejoicing in God (Dt. 12:7 in contrast to Lev. 10:19Dt. 26:14Hos. 9:4).  Christ and his disciples, in his darkest hour, prayed in a garden (Jn. 18:1, 26), which they resorted to often (Jn. 18:2).  It is very possible their walking down one mountain to the base of another was not inconsistent with singing praise (Mt. 26:30†), just as in 1 Sam. 10:5.  Israelites also sang praise going up mountains (2 Sam. 6:15Ps. 122:1-4).

† The Greek verbs are literally “singing praise, they went out.”  While most Bible translations understand this sequentially, the aorist participle followed by the aorist indicative verb (which Burton says Bible translators commonly mistranslate) may indicate simultaneous action: Ernest De Witt Burton, Sytnax of the Moods & Tenses in New Testament Greek, 3rd ed. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1955), pp. 59-61.

But if the pleasurable activity or exertion distracts and steals away our hearts from God (to whom the Sabbath has been set apart) and holy duties, it is a misusing and breaking of the Lord’s Day.


Natural Worship

If “the whole time” of the Lord’s Day is to be “taken up…  in the publick and private exercises of his worship,” besides “duties of necessity and mercy,” (WCF 21.8), what constitutes “worship”?

There was a common distinction amongst the reformed, and others, in the Post-Reformation (and before) between God’s natural worship (1st Commandment) and his instituted worship (Commandments 2-4).†  Natural worship includes believing in God, hoping in Him, loving Him, and praising and adoring Him for his many attributes and works, with soul-gratitude, humility, sincerity, reverence and other virtues, and having spiritual communion and fellowship with Him.  Instituted worship is that which God positively ordains through special revelation, such as prayer, singing of psalms, preaching and reading of the Word, which are for the purpose of stirring up natural worship.

† See ‘Natural vs. Instituted Worship’.

Natural worship, including all things done with a reference to God,¹ including keeping his commandments generally,² may be distinguished into mediate and immediate.  Worship properly speaking was typically defined by the reformed in that era as immediate worship, where our soul’s immediate focus is upon God and honor is given immediately to Him.‡

¹ See ‘All of Life is Worship, in General Respects’.
² See ‘Worship Includes Good Works in a Less Narrow Respect’.
‡ See ‘Definitions of Worship’.

Many forms of bodily refreshment or recreation may be consistent with and supportive of an immediate natural worship,ª such as meditating upon God, rejoicing in Him, wondering at his works, such as Creation about us (Ps. 19:1-6, 14, as God exampled, Gen. 1:31) and speaking of his things, praise and glory, as in spiritual conversation (Mal. 3:16-18; Lk. 24:1, 13-51; Acts 20:7-11).º  “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide…” (Gen. 24:63)

ª William Fenner: “works of helpful refreshings, as walking, for that may be existent with the immediate worship of God, Lk. 6:1.  I do not mean playing, Ex. 32:6, or recreations for our own pleasure, for they are forbidden, Isa. 58:13.”  The Spiritual Man’s Directory… (London, 1648), Q. 74, p. 37

º Lewis Bayly: “And either before or after supper, if the season of the year and weather does serve:  1. Walk into the fields and meditate upon the works of God: for in every creature thou mayst read, as in an open book the wisdom, power, providence and goodness of Almighty God: and how that none is able to make all these things in the variety of their forms, virtues, beauties, life, motions and qualities, but our most glorious God.

2. Consider how gracious He is that made all these things to serve us.  3. Take occasion hereby to stir up both thyself and others to admire and adore his power, wisdom and goodness: and to think what ungrateful wretches we are if we will not (in all obedience) serve and honor Him.”  The Practice of Piety… (London: Hodgets, 1613), ‘Now of the third sort of duties after the holy Assembly,’ pp. 608-9

If we will be worshipping God in Heaven during our eternal Sabbath (Heb. 4:1-11) with subordinate “pleasures for evermore” “at thy right hand” (Ps. 16:11), may not a foretaste of the same kind be enjoyed here on earth?  Was the Garden of Eden no pleasurable residence for spiritually fellowshipping with God on the Sabbath?

Did the Westminster divines believe worship on the Lord’s Day included immediate natural worship?  Yes.  See ‘What Constitutes ‘Worship’ on the Lord’s Day?’ for a fuller elaboration of this topic with quotes about natural worship being proper to the Lord’s Day from Samuel Rutherford, Westminster’s Directory for Public Worship, the Scottish Directory for Family Worship (1647, Scotland had adopted the Westminster standards) and many other reformed divines.  When Westminster spoke of the whole day being taken up in public and private worship, it did not say “ordinances,” but specified something more general: “exercises of his worship” (WCF 21.8), which language is inclusive of immediate natural worship.


Nature’s Light & Christian Prudence

WCF 1.6 adds a significant qualification to worship:

“…there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed. (1 Cor. 11:13,14; 14:26,40)”

Some may think this category of “circumstances” about God’s worship (likely from the influence of post-1800 reformed writers) only encompasses instituted worship, and hence is limited to things necessary to perform the ordinances of prayer, psalm-singing, preaching, etc.  This is not the case.  The seventeenth century men were much more attuned to the complexities and precision of metaphysics, understanding one’s circumstances, whatever they be, as entering into, in some way, one’s acts of worship, whether instituted or natural.¹

¹ William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John D. Eusden (1623; Baker, 1997), bk. 2, ch. 14, ‘The Manner of Worship’, pp. 283-87; Rutherford, The Divine Right of Church Government... (London, 1646), Intro, section 1, pp. 1-7; Corbet, Divine Worship, pt. 1, sections 8, 15, 16 in Remains, pp. 178-79, 182-85

Likewise, the Lord’s Day is a regulated circumstance of worship, the observance of it being itself worship.  Hence WCF 1.6 governs the Lord’s Day: it is to be observed in accord with some circumstances common to human actions, ordered by nature’s light, Christian prudence and the Word’s general rules.  The Directory assumed this as evident, insofar as the end of its Preface states, “…other things we have endeavoured to set forth according to the rules of Christian prudence, agreeable to the general rules of the word of God,” and in its section, “Of the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day,” it clearly enjoins details deriving from their culture and this principle.  Needless to say such details are not morally binding though the principle is.

Nature’s light here is very relevant, as the 4th Commandment is unique in that it is largely positive compared to the other Commandments (which are mostly natural and moral), and degrees of natural necessity overide positive laws.

The only aspect of the Lord’s Day that binds by “the law of nature, [is] that, in general, a due proportion of time [is to] be set apart for the worship of God” (WCF 21.7).  That is very broad, allowing for extensive variability through life, and yet very precise in that it constrains “a due proportion of time.”  That one whole day has been chosen for this purpose, namely the first day of every seven in the New Testament era, is the positive part of the Lord’s Day (WCF 21.7).ª  It should be noted, lest too little import be attached to the Lord’s Day, WCF 21.7 speaks of the positive aspect as also moral, insofar as it is universal, perpetual, and instituted by God’s own authority (see Palmer and Cawdrey for greater elaboration).ª

ª See ‘That the Sabbath is Partly Moral & Partly Positive’.

To conclude, the Lord’s Day and some of its circumstances are to be ordered by nature’s light, Christian prudence and the Word’s general rules, in an unique way not as applicable to the other Commandments.  This ethical prudence, or decency (1 Cor. 14:26, 40), and degrees of necessity by nature’s light unto a suitable benefit, was commonly considered to be of moral necessity by divines (see ‘What Constitutes Necessity?’).  James Durham summarizes:

“…Believers have allowance…  for…  4. what is needful and convenient, or comely for themselves; and more is not necessary:

In these the Lord has not straightened them, neither has he pinched and pinned them up to absolute necessity, but has left them to walk by Christian prudence (yet so as they may not exceed), for the disciples possibly might have endured that hunger, and not plucked the ears of corn [Mt. 12:1]…  seeing He has made the Sabbath for man, to be refreshing to him, and not man for the Sabbath…”  The Law Unsealed… (Glasgow: Sanders, 1676), Fourth Commandment, p. 171

Durham gives eight principles just after this which prevent this principle from being abused to excess.



A historian of the Assembly, Alexander Mitchell, continues narrating the Confession’s history where we left off:

“So far as appears from the minutes, the various articles of the Confession were passed by the Assembly all but unanimously.  On some occasions, when dissent was indicated even by one or two of the members, the wording of the article they objected to was so modified as to satisfy them.” Ibid., pp. 372-73

By Dec. 4, 1646 the Confession (without Scripture proofs) was finished and presented by the Assembly to the House of Commons (Ibid., 376).  It is noteworthy the confessional portions thus refined largely passed without dissent (where exceptions occured, it was not so reported about the Lord’s Day in Mitchell’s account; ibid., 373-75), and that merely one or two members (for a hypothetical example, such as those who held certain recreation to be lawful on the Sabbath) could get the confession to be amended to their satisfaction.  The Assembly was evidently intent on gaining the consent of all its members where it could (Ibid.).


Westminster’s Catechisms

Only after the Confession was completed did the Assembly seek to finish the Larger, and then the Shorter Catechism.  Palmer, an advocate of certain recreations on the Lord’s Day, was considered the best catechist in England by the Scotch commissioners.  He had a pivotal role in the production of Westminster’s catechisms from the beginning (Ibid., 420-21).

By August 1645 Palmer was appointed to a committee of three “to draw up the whole draft of the catechism…”  Over a year later, before much of the catechism had passed, numerous more divines, including Byfield and Newcomen, were added to the committee in December, 1646.  In January, 1647 it was determined “that the committee for the catechism do prepare a draught of two catechisms, one more large and another more brief…” (Ibid., 428).  In June of 1647 Walker and another divine were set to work on the “general rules for expounding the commandments” while Palmer and Cawdrey were to work on the Fourth Commandment.¹  The Larger Catechism was completed (without Scripture proofs) in October, 1647.²

¹ Session 868, June 23, 1647 in Hetherington, History, p. 435

² Mitchell, Westminster Assembly, 436

Only after the Larger Catechism had been virtually completed was the Shorter Catechism composed (Ibid., 437).  Palmer was the convener of the six person committee appointed for the task in August, 1647, though he died within a month or two of this.  Various other divines were added to the committe by November, 1647, including Cawdrey (Ibid., 438-40), before the Shorter Catechism (without proofs) was completed in the same month (Ibid., 451).

Mitchell said the explanation of the Ten Commandments in Westminster’s Larger Catechism was largely derived from the catechism of the Westminster divine, Matthew Newcomen, along with a few other works.º  Newcomen in his catechism did not forbid recreations simply on the Lord’s Day, but specifed a certain kind, namely “bodily recreations,”† which was distinguished in the era from spiritual recreation (see ‘Spiritual Recreation’ below).

º Ibid., pp. 431-32

† Newcomen, A Catechism composed according to the Order of the Catechisme in the Common Prayer Booke…  2nd ed. (London, R.Y., 1631), “The Ten Commandments” in ed. Alexander Mitchell, Catechisms of the Second Reformation… (London: James Nisbet, 1886), p.126

In accordance with all that has come before, Westminster Larger Catechism #119 prohibits all needless works, words and thoughts about our worldly employments and recreations (without a comma):

“The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are…  all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.”

Shorter Catechism questions 60-61 are similar and have no comma (all these catechism answers are confirmed in early editions):

60. “The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting…  from such worldly employments and recreations…”

61. “The fourth commandment forbiddeth…  unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.”

As the Larger and Shorter Catechism questions are arguably clearer and were written after the Confession, they may interpret WCF 21.8, especially as the detailed lists of sins prohibited in the questions on the Ten Commandments in the Larger Catechism are much fuller and detailed than the summary statements in the Confession.


A Commentary Expounding the Confession

The first positive commentary expounding the Westminster Confession was written by the Scottish minister and professor of divinity, David Dickson (1583?-1662), and was published after his death in 1684.  He was a colleague of Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford and Robert Baillie,¹ three of the Scottish commissioners and constant advisors to Westminster’s committees.  Dickson was in his 60’s during the passing of the Confession.

¹ “Life of David Dickson” in Select Practical Writings of David Dickson (Edinburgh, 1845), pp. v-lii; David Stevenson, “Conventicles in the Kirk, 1619-37: the Emergence of a Radical Party” in Scottish Church Historical Society (1974), pp. 99-114

In his polemical commentary on WCF 21.8, Dickson does not forbid recreations simply, but qualifies the state of the question he addressed and the terminology, saying:

“…do not some err, who think, that after public worship is ended, the rest of the Lord’s Day, may be spent, in ordinary exercises, recreations, and such like sports as are not unlawful on other days…?

Yes.  By what reasons are they confuted?  (1) Because, the Lord says in the Fourth Commandment, in it thou shalt not do any work.  But ordinary recreations, games, and sports, are our own works.”  (Truth’s Victory over Error… Edinburgh: Reid, 1684, ch. 21, question 13, pp. 195-96)


Commentaries on the Shorter Catechism

The English presbyterian, Joseph Alleine, wrote a commentary on Westminster’s Shorter Catechism in 1674.  Note that he not only allows for spiritual recreations, but by grammatical parallel, he also interprets the Catechism as forbidding worldly recreations:

“Q. From what must we rest? from spiritual employments and recreationsA. No.

Q. From what then?  A. From worldly employments and recreations?” (A Most Familiar Explanation of the Assemblies Shorter Catechism… London, Brewster, 1674, p. 92)

Thomas Vincent, a London presbyterian minister, wrote a different commentary on the Shorter Catechism in 1675, yet in it repeats the same passage as Alleine above verbatim (An Explicatory Catechism: or, an Explanation of the Assemblies Shorter Catechism… London, Mortlock, 1675, “Of the Sabbath,” p. 130).

The English presbyterian John Flavel (d. 1691) wrote a commentary on the Shorter Catechism, published in 1692, the year after his death.  He says: “all the recreations of the mind allowed on this day, are spiritual and heavenly;” (An Exposition of the Assemblies Catechism… London: Cockerill, 1692, “Of the Sabbath,” p. 131).  With this, our survey of Westminster’s original context is finished.


Playing Catch & Making Love

To highlight a last ethical matter before closing:  Naturally, what is relatively needful for individuals, or possibly consistent with or conducive to worship, or not, may, and very often does vary with individuals and circumstances.  Hence, besides the principles themselves and person’s consciences being governed by right reason, hard and fast rules cannot be made for everyone.  Durham:

“…nor will He have their consciences to be fettered with inextricable scruples…  so here there is some latitude left to conscientious reason to walk by; for some may do something at one time, and not at another, yea, one man may take more pains in upholding his body than is called for from another who is stronger, so that it’s impossible to set particular rules which will agree to all; but [that] men would look: 1. to their end, 2. to their need, 3. to what may conveniently attain the end.”  Law Unsealed, Fourth Commandment, p. 171

Knowing the reasons for an action and its consistency with the Lord’s Day is much better than, “Well, I don’t have a problem with that.”

To take up the question of a dad playing catch with a football with his son:

If it is done for needful refreshment, in good conscience before the Lord, and/or with spiritual conversation or instruction (perhaps that is the only way the dad can engage his son with the Lord’s things),¹ this is a keeping of the Lord’s Day.

If it is not done for needful refreshment, or is replacing spiritual duties, or is done vainly and apart from faith in and the presence of the Lord, or is simply about playing football, this is not spiritual recreation and is a breaking of the Day of the Lord.

¹ The necessity of eternal salvation in the 1st Commandment (which the Lord’s Day was instituted to serve; see ‘Instituted Worship: for Natural Worship’) overrides the postive aspects of the Lord’s Day (4th Commandment) where necessary, while fulfilling the natural aspects of the Lord’s Day (namely natural worship); cf. ‘That the Sabbath is Partly Moral & Partly Positive’.  For this principle exemplified in a different context, see Rutherford under ‘That Ministers Alone are to Administer the Sacraments’.

Regarding making love to one’s spouse:

Making love’s regular, immediate and nearest end is love for the other, bodily pleasure, friendship and kindness, not for knowing God better or for the glory of God or Christ,¹ though these latter things are to form, at least implicitly, the ultimate, distal end of all actions (1 Cor. 10:31).  Hence making love, especially as it is a common work of man, is not a proper work of the Sabbath,² and if it is done, it must be done under another regard.

¹ Contra what John Piper seems to say: eds. John Piper & Justin Taylor, Sex & the Supremacy of Christ (Crossway, 2005), pp. 26-30

² In one extraordinary Old Testament instance God required men to remain apart from their wives in prepration for specially meeting with Him (Ex. 19:15 cf. 1 Sam. 21:3-6).  Paul recognized making love was contrary to the purpose of being devoted to fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7:5; cf. Zech. 12:12-14).  These considerations, though, are not determinative for the weekly Lord’s Day, especially when not fasting.

Nor is making love by its nature regularly conducive to or consistent with immediate natural worship, the bodily pleasures being strong and rightly, naturally focusing one’s attention on one’s spouse and self.  Making love is more of a distraction from than a means of immediate worship, by its very nature.

Yet works of piety or mercy, where the primary motivation may be expression of God’s grace to another, from a regard to his character and revealed will, is a form of immediate natural worship (it being done primarily out of reference to God) and is a proper work of the Sabbath.  There are cases where seeking to cheer up and bless your despondent or afflicted spouse may be a merciful work of compassion and piety.

While making love is not an absolute necessity, as one certainly can go a day without it, yet it might be of a relative moral necessity unto refreshment, rest, and giving life (Mk. 3:4; Lk. 6:9; 14:3), especially when one is so worn out from the labors of the week.  Making love may also be necessary as conducive to worship, if abstaining from it is a constant distraction and hindrance from spiritual exercises.

Making love might also arguably be a thing of common decency and Christian prudence, a baseline state for two persons joined as one flesh.  Paul does not include weekly sabbath observance in his list of reasons why a couple might not come together (1 Cor. 7:5).  For what it’s worth, a significant portion of ancient Jewry held making love to be common and lawful on the Sabbath.º

º Malka Z. Simkovich, “Intimacy on Shabbat: Was It Always a Mitzvah?” citing Mishna, Ketubot 5.6 and Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 62b.5.  See also Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sabbath, 30.14.  Simkovich quotes against making love on the Sabbath the Book of Jubilees (2nd century BC) 50.7-8 and the Dead Sea Scrolls’ Damascus Document XII (with qualifications).

Yet making love may not be lawful on the Sabbath, if it is not a good use of time, does not further the ends of the Day, hinders due spiritual employments or other necessary duties, is simply a fleshly activity or is done with a bad conscience.

Mature godly people may do more lawfully on the Lord’s Day than less godly persons (1 Cor. 8:7; Titus 1:15).  Oh that we would get our hearts in a right frame for the Lord’s Day!  The heart is what all else issues from (Mt. 6:22-23; 15:11).  Durham righlty teaches:

“…another may break the Sabbath by going but to his neighbor’s door, yea by walking in his own house, or to his door, if either it be done idly or with respect to another civil or worldly end, which agrees not to that day; it is not here remoteness or nearness, but what sways us and what is our end that we are to try by.”  Law Unsealed, Fourth Commandment, p. 170


Summary Conclusion

While recreation is a proper work of the other six days of the week and not the Sabbath, it appears from Westminster’s historical context, the writings of Westminster divines, the context of the Assembly’s process and the standards themselves, especially as these were consensus documents (which tend to the lowest common denominator) and are able to be read in the way here argued, that the original intent of Westminster as an Assembly did not prohibit all recreation on the Sabbath simply, but only necessarily prohibited “needless…  worldly…  recreations.”

It would appear this understanding of the Westminster standards cannot be disproved except it be demonstrated this reading is not legitimately possible.  Not only do the Westminster standards not say “no recreations,” this phrase misrepresents what the standards do say.

Spiritual recreation was evidently allowed (and is necessary for the Day’s purpose).  While “worldly” might refer to honest, earthly recreation, or recreation done in an immoral, worldly way, the very ambiguity in the consensus context only necessarily prohibits the latter.  Even honest recreations, apart from “all sports and pastimes” (per the Directory), may be allowed, if necessary.  While divines did vary on what constituted necessity, many of the puritans did affirm that it encompasses a relative degree of moral necessity unto a suitable benefit, such as giving life (Mk. 3:4; Lk. 6:9; 14:3), which view has been argued here.  Common decency, nature’s light, Christian prudence and the Word’s general rules do qualify the worshipful observance of the Lord’s Day (WCF 1.6; 1 Cor. 14:26,40).

Pleasurable activity, refreshment and recreation largely overlap, and did for many reformed divines, and exist on a continuum.  The distinguishing principle is that pleasurable activities may be allowed if they are not distracting from or hindering of, but consistent with or subservient and beneficial to worship, which the whole day is to be devoted to apart from necessities.  Worship, commonly defined by the reformed (and others) in its narrow sense as an immediate honoring of God, encompasses not only instituted ordinances, but also immediate natural worship, which can involve meditation, enjoying and praising God for his character, grace and works, spiritual conversation and other spiritual employments, which may consist with a certain, natural recreation while being focused upon the Lord.

This is a fuller and more exact keeping of the Lord’s Day than the wood-box view, which may not allow for some of these qualifications.  It is hoped those who have held to that view, perhaps not knowing any better, have come to a fuller understanding of the Lord’s Day.

As we are subjects and have subjective needs, motivations and inward worship, Lord’s Day observance has a subjective aspect.  Playing catch with the football and making love, while not proper Lord’s Day activities, may be lawful if they are consistent with or conducive to Lord’s Day purposes and right reason; otherwise they break the Sabbath.

To further clarify:  It is here affirmed, out of sheer historical honesty, a Westminster divine holding non-necessary, honest, earthly recreations (i.e. not “worldly”) to be allowable on the Lord’s Day, could have approvingly voted for the relevant propositions of the Assembly, the syntax of those propositions being able to be legitimately understood in that way.  This allowance was de facto part of Westminster’s original historic intent.  However, the opinion of this writer, Travis Fentiman, as has been argued at the same time through this article, is more narrow, namely that only morally necessary recreations are warranted on the Lord’s Day.  Moral necessity includes degrees thereof, including pleasurable actions with a natural profit subordinate to or consistent with: immediate natural worship (not distracting from the Lord) and/or natural decency (or a combination of these).

This article has been focused on theory, which must have its place (especailly when errors abound and are taught as true).  Yet in order to draw out much more living water from salvation’s wells on the Sabbath to your spiritual refreshment and God’s greater glory, the Lord’s Day’s very purpose and heart, without which it is a dry, cumbersome and empty ritual, take up and relish the puritan work of John Wells, The Practical Sabbatarian, or, Sabbath-Holiness Crowned with Superlative Happiness (London: 1668).

May all praise be to Jesus Christ the Son, our loving Redeemer and the Lord of the Sabbath (Mt. 12:8)!


“…call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and…  honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord…”

Isa. 58:13-14



Prohibited Recreations on the Lord’s Day


Order of Contents

Quotes  3
Articles  10+
Civil  1
Historical  1




John Knewstub

Lectures upon the Twentieth Chapter of Exodus  (1577), pp. 72–73, as quoted in James T. Dennison, Jr., The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532–1700  (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983), pp. 24-25  Knewstub (1544–1624)

“Wherein the wickedness of this exceeds, in that men commonly no day in the week follow so much their own ways, and delights of their own heart, as on that day, which is appointed to learn them how to cease from their owne ways, works, and delights.

For a great number (and those not the worst of all) take that day to be ordeind only for ease of their body and to be a day of recreation after their travels and labors that hae been the six days before, and use it accordingly: whereas, the Lord has appointed it to the exercise of Word and prayer, that being unburdened of their worldly affairs, they might with free hearts and minds attend upon the Word, prayer, and meditation….

Thus the right use and end of the Sabbath is clean altered, and not that only, but changed into a practice most contrary to the institution thereof.  For being appointed to be…  the market day of the soul, to make provision for the days following…”


Nicholas Bownd  1595

The True Doctrine of the Sabbath  (Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), pp. 152-53, 167, 267-68

“Zanchius moves this question, “Why all outward servile work is to be avoided on the Sabbath day;” and renders this reason, Quia sunt impedimenta, ‘because they are lets and hindrances unto men, that they cannot attend upon those things which God requires in His outward worship.'[287]  For the end of the rest is not simply that a man should be idle, but that he might more commodiously the whole day give himself to God’s service.  For as Athanasius says, ‘Non otij causa‘, God gave not the Sabbath to make men idle.  For whereas every day in the sacrifice was offered a lamb in the morning and in the evening; upon this day He commanded that two lambs should be slain in the morning and two in the evening, and that twelve loaves should be set upon the table with frankincense, etc. [Lev. 24:8].  If He had delighted in idleness, He would not have commanded so many things to be done.[288]

287. Zanchius, The Fourth Commandment. [Col. 663.]

288. Athanasius, Matt. 11:27 [sic]. [“Non enim principaliter ocii causa….” Cf. S. Athanasius–Dubia, De Sabbatis et Circumcisione, §1. PG 28, col. 135, §2. “Non enim otii præcipue causa….” Opera ({Heidelbergæ:} ex officina Commeliniana, 1600; Gesuiti: Collegio Romano, 1601) 761.]

But the end of rest was that they might attend upon other things, whereupon St. Augustine thus concludes, in one of his sermons which we noted before: Videamus, ne otium nostrum vanum sit. 

“Let us take heed that our rest be not turned into idleness and vanity; but being sequestered from all rural works, and from all business, let us wholly attend upon the worship of God.” (Augustine, ibid. [PL 39, col. 2274–2275.])

The principal end then of rest, is that we might in soul and body, without all let and interruption, wholly attend upon the worship of God.


Upon the Lord’s Day we ought to rest from all honest recreations & lawful delights.

But to proceed in this matter according to my purpose; it is most certain that we are not only commanded to rest from these that we have spoken of, but from all other things which might hinder us from the sanctifying of the Sabbath, as well as these: of which sort are all honest recreations, and lawful pleasures, which are permitted unto us upon the other days, to further us in the works of our calling, which we do also stand in need of sometimes, even as of meat, and drink, and sleep.

For if those worldly duties (which we are commanded to walk in, and be of necessity required, and without the which the commonwealth cannot stand at all) are then forbidden, when we should attend upon the Lord’s work, because we cannot be wholly occupied in both; much more those things must be given over which serve but for pleasure, without the which mankind may continue, though not so well continue.  Because we cannot have the present delight in the use of them, and yet at the same time be occupied in the hearing of the Word, and such other parts of God’s holy worship and service, as He requires of us upon the Sabbath day.

Nay, because men cannot be both at church serving God with the rest of the people, and in their houses sporting themselves with their companions together; nor in the great congregation (Ps. 35:18) praising God with their brethren, and in the open fields playing with their fellows at one time (and God upon the Sabbath requires these of them). Therefore, the other must give place to them, and we must not think it sufficient that we do no work upon the Sabbath, and in the mean season |263| be occupied about all manner of delights, but we must cease as well from the one as from the other.

… And we must rest from these things so much the more, by how much the works of our recreation are less needful, than the works of our vocation, and yet do more hinder us from the sanctifying of the Sabbath than they.  For experience (which is the mistress of very fools) may teach us (and our nature is such that it must needs be so), how much we are moved with delectable things everyone in his kind, some this way, another that; how marvelously they do affect us, how all our senses are taken up with them, and all the parts of soul and body wholly possessed with them, that for the present time none of them can be occupied about the Lord’s work immediately, at least wise as they should be.”



John Willison

A Treatise Concerning the Sanctification of the Lord’s Day…  3rd ed.  (1716; Edinburgh: Lumisden, 1745)

p. 73

“II.  We must rest not only from all worldly employments on the Sabbath, but also from all worldly recreations, according to the Word of God, and our Confession of faith and catechisms.”


pp. 75-76

“It was unlawful for God’s people under the Old Testament to spend any part of the Sabbath in carnal pleasures and recreations, it is unlawful for us under the New…  That such recreations were prohibited to the Jews, I believe none will deny…  [by] the Fourth Command and Isa. 58:13 forecited…  we are bound to abstain from those recreations upon the Sabbath, as well as the Jews…

but the Jews were bound to abstain from carnal recreations on the Sabbath, upon moral grounds, which concern us as well as them…  the reasons of the Fourth Command are moral…  every one of them levels as much against worldly recreations on the Sabbath Day as against worldly employments.”





Widley, George – pp. 98-101  of ch. 3, ‘On the Sabbath we must rest from recreations…’  in The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (London, 1604), bk. 2

Widley (b. 1566 or 1567) was an English minister in Portsmouth, England.

Downame, John – A Guide to Godliness or a Treatise of a Christian Life…  (London: Kingstone, 1622), ch. 39

section 2, ‘That we must rest from our own works on the Lord’s Day’, pp. 383-84

section 3, ‘That on the Lord’s Day we must abstain from carnal recreations’, pp. 384-86

Burton, Henry

pp. 22-32  of A Brief Answer to a Late Treatise of the Sabbath Day Digested Dialogue-wise between Two Divines, A. & B.  (1635)

Burton was an English, Independent puritan.

A Divine Tragedy Lately Acted, or A Collection of Sundry Memorable Examples of God’s Judgments upon Sabbath-Breakers, & other like Libertines, in their Unlawful Sports, happening within the Realm of England, in the Compass only of Two Years Last Past  (1636)

Example 3
Example 23
Example 26
Example 27
Example 29
Example (7)
Example 50
Example 13
Example 1
Example 2
Example 16
Example 56

Burton was an Independent puritan.

Walker, George – pp. 155-58  in ch. 21  in The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (1638)

Walker was a Westminster divine.

Twisse, William – pp. 179-85 & 242-46  in Of the Morality of the Fourth Commandment as still in Force to Bind Christians…  (London, 1641)

Twisse was a Westminster divine.

Bernard, Richard – ch. 29, ‘Concerning sports…  & why sports lawful at other times are on this [Lord’s] day to be foreborne…’  in A Threefold Treatise of the Sabbath  (1641), pp. 224-35

Bernard (bap. 1568-1642) was a reformed puritan.

Palmer, Herbert & Daniel Cawdrey – Sabbatum Redivivum, or the Christian Sabbath Vindicated…  (1651-1652)

pt. 2, ch. 1, pp. 37-38
pt. 4, ch. 2, pp. 534-65 & 621-55

Palmer and Cawdrey were Westminster divines.

Dickson, David – Question 13, pp. 195-96  in ch. 21  in Truth’s Victory Over Error…  (d. 1663; 1684)

Wells, John – ch. 4, ‘That Needless Recreations are Unlawful on the Sabbath’  in The Practical Sabbatarian, or, Sabbath-Holiness Crowned with Superlative Happiness  (London: 1668), pp. 23-35

Baxter, Richard – pp. 110-27  of ch. 10, ‘How the Lords day should not be spent: Or, What is unlawful on it?’  in The Divine Appointment of the Lords’ Day Proved  (1671)

“But mark what a cure God in wisdom and mercy has provided for us: As it is but one day in seven which is thus to be wholly employed with God, and as much of this day is taken up with the bodily necessaries aforesaid, so for the rest, God appoints us variety of exercises, that when we are weary of one, another may be our recreation.

When we have heard we must pray, and when we have prayed we must hear again: We must read, we must sing and speak God’s praises, we must celebrate the memorial of Christ’s death in the sacrament; we must meditate; we must confer, we must instruct our families: and we have variety of subjects for each of these.  As a student that is weary has variety of books and studies to recreate his mind, so has every Christian variety of holy employment on the Lord’s day.  And all of it [is] excellent profitable and delightful!” – pp. 122-23



Shaw, Robert – ch. 21.8, p. 233  in An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines  4th ed.  (1845; Johnstone & Hunter, 1850)



Civil Prohibition

English Parliament – An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons Assembled in Parliament, For the better Observation of the Lord’s-Day  (April 6, 1644)

This was the major ordinance of the English, civil (mostly puritan) Parliament banning the King’s Book of Sports (or declarations rather, 1618 & 1633) during the sitting of Westminster.

The ordinance only mentions “recreation” descriptively in relation to the King’s declaration, or Book of Sports.  It does not outlaw recreation simply, though it does ban many specific sports and pastimes (which gives context to the Westminster Directory’s prohibition of “pastimes”).  For instance, the ordinance does not disallow walking in a field, listening to music, etc.

It positively ordains “that all and singular person and persons whatsoever, shall on every Lord’s-day, apply themselves to the sanctification of the same, by exercising themselves thereon, in the duties of piety and true religion, publicly and privately…”




Scottish Reformation

Todd, Margo – p. 32  in The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland  (Yale University Press, 2002)



Lawful Recreation on the Lord’s Day




Widley, George – pp. 101-2  of ch. 3, ‘On the Sabbath we must rest from recreations…’  in The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (London, 1604), bk. 2

Widley (b. 1566 or 1567) was an English minister in Portsmouth, England.

Palmer, Herbert & Daniel Cawdrey – pp. 639 & 650  of ch. 2 of pt. 4  of Sabbatum Redivivum. Or, The Christian Sabbath Vindicated…  (1651-1652)

Palmer and Cawdery were Westminster divines.




Order of Quotes




Nicholas Bownd

Sabbathum Veteris et Novi Testamenti, or The True Doctrine of the Sabbath  (Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books, 2015), Author’s Preface, pp. 8–9

“9. Yet in cases of necessity God has given great liberty unto us, to do many things for the preservation and comforts not only of the beasts and dumb creatures, but especially of man.  Not only when he is weak and sick, but being healthful and strong, both in the works of our callings, and also of recreations, without which necessity we are persuaded that men ought ordinarily to cease from them.”



William Perkins

The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience  (Cambridge: John Legat, 1606), ch. 16, ‘How the Sabbath of the New Testament is to be observed?’, section 1, case 1, p. 460

“I take it we are not denied to rejoice and solace ourselues upon this day.  For to some men, at some times, recreation may be more necessary than meat, in case of weakness, for present preservation of health.  And though not in that regard, yet being well used, it may be a furtherance to men, in the performance of the duties of godliness, as well as in the duties of their calling.  But this rejoicing must be such as was the rejoicing of the Jews, Neh. 8:12, which was only spiritual, and in the Lord.  For they reioyced only for this, that they understood the law of God that was taught them.

But as for the recreations and pastimes aforenamed, as bowling and such like, they are not at this time to be used…”


Lewis Bayly

The Practice of Piety… (London: Hodgets, 1613), ‘Meditations of the true manner of practicing piety on the Sabbath day’, pp. 568-69

“No bodily receation therefore is to be used on this day but so far as it may help the soul to do more cheerefully the service of the Lord.”


Thomas Cooper

Wilie Beguile Ye, or The Worldling’s Gain…  (London, 1621), Conclusion to the Reader, pp. 53-54  Cooper (1569/70 – 1626 or later) was an English puritan; works.

“And yet so far only to exercise it [the body on the Lord’s Day] as not to tire and weary it, if urgent occasion do not require, lest wearisomeness require some such recreation thereof as is nor [not] meet.

Whence it follows that all bodily recreations that do not further us to divine worship, are unlawful on the Lord’s Day: Because they serve only to refresh the body after labor; which is restrained therefrom; otherwise I say, then they shall make us fitter to serve God, when we have any liberty to labor upon case of necessity, though we may use that liberty to wearisomeness, yet this is to be relieued specially with spiritual recreation.”


John Downame

A Guide to Godliness or a Treatise of a Christian Life… (London: Kingstone, 1622), ch. 39, sections 2 & 3

pp. 383-84

“…all kinds of recreations which are not necessary for the preserving of health and life, and tend not to the better fitting and enabling of us for religious duties, but to sensual and carnal delight.  Of which [lawful] sort are walking abroad that we may take the air, or that we may confer one with another, or meditate on the creatures, some bodily exercise in course of physick to refresh the body, and in some cases music, not only vocal by singing of Psalms, which is a duty of the Sabbath, but also on instruments, when as it is used, not for carnal and sensual delight, but to refresh our spirits, and quicken our dull and drowzy hearts and minds, that they may with more cheerfulness return vnto the performance of religious and holy duties; in which cases there may at some times be the same use of these recreations (so they be in moderation, in an holy manner, and to these ends) which is of physick, meats and drinks.  But from all other recreations which tend only to carnal and sensual delight, we must wholly abstain…  because these worldly recreations do more dangerously and cunningly wind into our hearts…”


p. 385

“Section 3, That on the Lord’s Day we must abstain from carnal recreations…  we ought to…  feed and cherish it with vain sports and worldly recreations…  To them that are wearied with labour, the rest of the Lord’s Day is the best and fittest recreation for the refreshing of their bodies; and if they be spiritually-minded, the exercises of the Sabbath before spoken of, are the best recreations for the cheering of the heart and mind.  For who can reasonably think when a man is tired with the week’s labour, that…  should recreate a man more, than an holy and religious rest, hearing the Word, singing of Psalms, holy conferences, and such like…”


Edward Elton

God’s Holy Mind touching Matters Moral which Himself Uttered in Ten Words, or Ten Commandments…  (London: 1625), p. 105

“Question:  Is it lawful to drink wine, or other strong drink, or to eat delicates and dainties on the Sabbath or no?

Answer:  If men have these things provided, and ready at hand of their own, or in the house where they are on the Sabbath, they may use them on the Sabbath; so as they use them moderately, and for the better enabling of them to perform holy duties both in public and private.  Eccl. 10:17, Solomon would haue princes to eat in time, and for strength, and not for drunkenness.  Much more then other men.”


George Walker

The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (1638), ch. 21  Westminster divine

p. 156

“So also no bodily sports, recreations and pleasures are to be tolerated or used merely to cherish the flesh, to refresh the body, and to procure bodily strength, but only such as are in very deed needful in themselves, and used and intended by God’s people with this purpose, and to this end, that they may with more ability, alacrity, and cheerfulness do the holy works and perform the holy duties of God’s worship and service which are proper to the Lord’s holy day.”


pp. 158-59

“…whatsoever recreations and exercises of body and mind are necessar[il]y required for the bettering of our sanctification of the Lord’s day and the enabling of us to perform with more cheerfulness, strength and courage the holy worship of God, and the work and service of his holy Sabbath, and which are also intended by us only to that end and use, them we may use, and so far as they serve to further and in no wise to hinder God’s holy worship and the immediate works and duties thereof.

This is manifest by God’s allowing to his people in the Law dressing of meat and cheerful feasting on his Sabbath and holy days: which are needfull to cheer up men, and to provoke them to worship Him with all thankfulness of heart, also to put on our best apparel that we may come decently to God’s house.

As these are lawful, being directed to holy use, so undoubtedly honest refreshing with recreations which cheer up the heart and refresh the spi∣rits are lawful when they are helpful to holy exercises and are directed to that end, as stirring of the body, walking into gardens or fields to take fresh air, being found very helpful to preachers to revive their spirits, strengthen their loins, clear their voices, sharpen and quicken their wits and memories; and being done only to that end are lawful.

So also walking into the corn fields in summer or harvest, or into meadows or pastures in the spring, both to refresh our bodies and spirits, and to give us occasion to admire God’s bounty in clothing the bodies, and his Fatherly providence in making the earth so fruitful, and to laud and praise Him, is lawful for us.

And if after public and private exercise we do so walk about, diverse together, conferring of heavenly things and taking occasion by sight of earthly blessings to provoke one another to thankfulness and acknowledgment of God’s love, this no doubt is a recreation fit for the Lord’s day, and helps much our devotion; and this seems to have been practiced by our Savior, who went through the corn fields on the Sabbath day, Mt. 12:1, and his disciples with them.”


William Twisse

Of the Morality of the Fourth Commandment as still in Force to Bind Christians…  (London, 1641)

The Preface of the Translator, section 8, Examination, p. 185

“As for the refreshing of our spirits and quickening them, and thereby making us the fitter for God’s service, as in any modest exercise of the body in private according to every man’s particular disposition, to prevent drowsiness and dulness in attending to God’s Word, in praying in singing of psalms, I know none that takes any exception against it.”


The Doctrine of the Sabbath Considered, section 8, p. 242

“As for the recreations, which are here said to serve lawfully to the refreshing of our spirits, this appellation [by an opponent] is very ambiguous; neither do I know any difference between the recreating of our spirits and the refreshing of our spirits: yet here the refreshing of our spirits is made the end of recreation.  Again it were good to distinguish between recreation of the body, and recreation of the mind.

I think the refreshing of spirits pertains to the recreation of the body; men’s spirits are natural and material things, and they are apt to be wasted first naturally…  and spirits thus wasted are recreated, that is, repaired by eating and drinking.  And thus provisions of victual are commonly called recreats.

2. Secondly they are wasted also by labour voluntarily undertaken, and these are repaired, as by the former way, so by rest also.  And each way we are allowed to recreate our spirits on the Lord’s Day…

But now adays many courses are called recreations, wherein there is found little rest; and the natural spirits of man are rather wasted, and his nature tired; far more than the one is repaired, or the other eased.

And when all comes to all, I doubt the issue will be to style the pleasures of our senses by the cleanly name of recreations.  Now the Jews were expressely forbidden to find their own pleasure on the Lord’s holy day, Isa. 58:13, yet were they not forbidden all pleasure, that belonged only to such a sabbath as was a fast; and therein indeed hypocrites are taxed for finding pleasure on that day, Isa. 58:3.

But the weekly Sabbath was for pleasure and delight, but not for man’s own pleasure, nor for the doing of their own ways.  But to delight in the Lord, which is spiritual pleasure, and the recreating of our souls in the Lord: this is a blessed rest, thus to rest unto Him; and the Word of God is the best food of the soul; No recreates like unto God’s holy ordinances.”


Edward Leigh

A System or Body of Divinity…  (London: A.M., 1654), 9th Book, of the Moral Law, ch. 5, 4th Commandment, p. 818

“3. Works needful for the comfortable passing of the Sabbath, as dressing of moderate food, and the like, may be done on the Sabbath-day; for seeing Christ allows us to lead the ox to the water, and requires not to fetch in water for him over night, he allows us to dress meat, and requires not to dress it over night. For the order in the Law of not kindling a fire pertained alone to the business of the Tabernacle, and that order of dressing what they would dress on the sixth day, pertained alone to the matter of manna.

And for this we have Christ’s clear example, who being invited went to a feast on the Sabbath-day, which he might not have done if it had been unlawful to dress meat and drink on the Lord’s day, for a feast sure was not kept without some preparation of warm meat.  This example of Christ we have Luke 14:1, 8, 12, which verses compared make it apparent that it was a feast whereto He was bidden amongst diverse others.

So then all labours and businesses except in these three cases are unlawful, for mercy, necessi∣ty, and present needful comfort…  but as sauce for work, only the spiritual pastimes of singing holy Psalms and songs as a spiritual recreation is allowed to prevent all weariness.”


Francis Turretin

Institutes  (P&R), vol. 2, 11th Topic, Q. 14, ‘The Lord’s Day…’, p. 98

“XXV.  Here, nevertheless, are excepted [to the prohibition of servile work]:

(4) works of necessity, which are neither feigned nor designedly produced, but imposed upon us by providence (Lk. 14:5); not only absolute and simple, that may be called necessary only (which we can in no way be in want of), but modified and relative so that those things may be reckoned necessary not only which are required absolutely for the existence and support of life, but also those which conduce to our living better.

Hence some great advantage and emolument accrues to us or our neighbor if they are done or some great disadvantage and loss if they are omitted.  ‘The sabbath’ (as Christ testifies in Mk. 2:27) ‘was made for man and not man for the sabbath.’”

XXVI.  Therefore, we do not think that in this cessation believers are bound to Judaical precision which some (more scrupulous than is just) maintain was not revoked, so that it is lawful neither to kindle a fire, nor to cook food, nor to take up arms against an enemy, nor to prosecute a journey begun by land or sea, nor to refresh themsevles with innocent relaxation of the mind and body, provided they are done out of the hours appointed for divine worship, nor to have any diversion, however slight, to any things belonging to the advantages or emoluments of this life.

For although this opinion bears on its face a beautiful appearance of piety (and undoubtedly with good intention is proposed by pious men to procure the better sanctification of this day, usually so basely profaned), still it labors under grievous disadvantages; nor can it be retained without in this way bringing back in to the church and imposing anew upon the shoulders of Christians an unbearable yoke (abastakton), repugnant to Christian liberty and the gentleness of Christ and opposed to the sweetness of the covenant of grace by agitating and tormenting the consciences of men through infinite scruples and inextricable difficulties (nearly driving to desperation).”



On Spiritual Recreation

“Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.”

Ps. 119:24


Order of Quotes




Richard Byfield

The Doctrine of the Sabbath Vindicated...  (London: Kyngston, 1631), ch. 14, p. 62  Byfield was a Westminster divine.

“…as many learned and conscionable divines deliver, our works of recreation, or sports which we find out, though at other times lawful, which take off the heart from holy duties; for God has found us another recreation; chiefly on that day, ‘if any will be merry, let him sing psalms’ (as in Ps. 92, The Title compared with the Psalm) and would have the Sabbath’s duties our delight.”


Jeremiah Burroughs

An Exposition with Practical Observations continued upon the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Chapters of the Prophesy of Hosea...  (London: Cole, 1650), pp. 164-65.  The context of this does not regard the Sabbath specifically.  Burroughs was a Westminster divine.

“Surely that which is most sweet to the soul of God should be most sweet to our souls: You would wonder to hear a man say that he takes as much delight and he can recreate himself as much in reading, in praying, in hearing sermons, in holy conference as you can do in all your good cheer, in playing and drinking of wine in bowls:

You think that men are made to say that they have as much pleasure in those things, as playing at cards, and merriment, and music, and good cheer: you call upon them to play at cards with you, or be merry, you say to them, why should you be dumpish and never be merry?

They tell you again that they can be as merry and as cheerful in hearing the Word, and praying, and reading, as you in all your playing, and all that you account delightful.  You say to them that they have no recreation.  They tell you that those things that are your burdens, are their recreation…”


Edward Leigh

A System or Body of Divinity…  (London: A.M., 1654), 9th Book, of the Moral Law, ch. 5, 4th Commandment, pp. 820-21

“This delight is spiritual in God as the proper object, and in the ordinances as the only means to lead us unto God, Job 27:10; Ps. 43:4; Canticles, 2:3; Isa. 56:7.

Reasons. 1. Because the duties of that day are higher, we have then all the means of communion with God:

1. We have them in a more raised solemn way without any interruption; there is then a double institution, not only of the worship, but the time.

2. Its a spiritual feast, a day of God’s appointment, our recompence as well as our duty, Neh. 2:26.  Ordinances are fodinae gratiae [wells of grace], Isa. 12:3.

3. This day we come to remember the highest favours of God to the creature, to contemplate the works of Creation, God’s rest, and of Redemption, Christ’s rest, 1 Pet. 4:1, and our own eternal rest, Heb. 4:9, the Sabbaths of the faithful are the suburbs of Heaven, Heb. 12:23, the Lord’s Supper is heaven in a map, Luke 14:15; Mt. 26:29.

4. Many of the duties of the day are but spiritual recreations; meditation is the solace of the mind in the contemplation of God’s works, Ps. 104:34.  Singing of Psalms is a vent for spiritual mirth, Lam. 5; Eph. 5:18-19; then God should be solemnly praised, Ps. 92:1-2.

5. It is the temper of the people of God to delight in his solemn worship, Ps. 2; 1 Cor. 2:12. Male concordat canticum novum et vetus homo [The new song and old man poorly agree]. Augustine; Ps. 84:1, 10; Ps. 122:1.

6. Delight in the Sabbath is the best way to discharge the duties: 1. With comfort; delight sweetens all; how will men toil at their sport? Neh. 11:8.  2. With profit, Isa. 64:5; God will not send them away sad which come into his presence with joy.”


Edmund Warren

The Jews’ Sabbath Antiquated, & the Lord’s Day Instituted by Divine Authority  (London: Maxwel, 1659), Position 7, ‘The Lord’s Day must be kept holy to the Lord,’ p. 257

“…let our rest and confidence be only in Christ, and to such as take Him for their rest, his work is but recreation, and so indeed we should esteem it in a spiritual sense; not looking upon it as a sour task, or a rigid exaction, but calling the Sabbath a delight, we should keep it accordingly, even the whole day, with the whole man, as a day of delights to the Lord, being transported beyond flesh and the world, and having our conversation in heaven, as much as is possible for creatures clothed with flesh.”



Bodily Refreshment on the Lord’s Day

Order of Quotes

Dod & Cleaver



John Dod & Robert Cleaver

The Bright Star which Leadeth Wise Men to our Lord Jesus Christ, or, A Familiar & Learned Exposition on the Ten Commandements…  (1603), 4th Commandment, ‘In it thou shalt do no manner of work’, p. 78

“So Luke 23, in the two last verses, it is noted of Mary Magdalen and her companions, that having prepared their perfumes to annoint the dead body of Christ, and not having time to get ready enough for that purpose before the sabbath came…  because Christ’s body was dead, and their embalming it, did yeld no ease and refreshing, and so was no work of mercy, nor was not a worship of God, they durst not do it.”


Lewis Bayly

The Practice of Piety… (London: Hodgets, 1613), ‘Now of the third sort of duties after the holy Assembly,’ p. 611

“Works of charity, as to a save the life of a man, or of a beast, to fodder, water, and dress cattle.  To make honest provision of meat and drink, to refresh ourselves and to relieue the poor…”


On William Bradshaw

Samuel Clarke, The Lives of Two & Twenty English Divines eminent in their Generations...  (London: Underhill, 1660), ‘The Life & Death of Master William Bradshaw, who died Anno Christi, 1618’, pp. 56-57  Bradshaw (1571–1618) was an English, independent puritan.  Clarke (1599–1683) was an English presbyterian puritan.

“…on the Lord’s Day for his better ease and refreshment, between his forenoon and afternoon’s employment, he was usually entertained at the house of one Master Alexander Buckley…  and whose wife, Mistress Anne Buckley, a very sweet natured, humble and godly woman, was both a Mary and Martha to him, no less diligent to attend his teaching with the one, than sedulous to make fitting provision for him with the other; and that some of the better affected sort among those that heard him, would now and then gratifie him with some kind of country-courtesies when he kept house by himself.”


Henry Burton

The Law & the Gospel Reconciled…  (London: Slatter, 1631), pp. 40-41

“…[by] the abrogation of these ceremonies [of preparing manna the day before and not kindling a fire in the wilderness on the Sabbath by the Israelites] ought not Christians to turn into surquedry [arrogance] and excess of feasting (as too many do) so abusing their christian liberty: but to be used with all sobriety, such as may not hinder, but help the holy spiritual duties of this day by a due refreshing of the body, for necessity, not for superfluity.

So that the whole worship and service of God, and his saving knowledge for man’s salvation (to speak nothing of bodily refreshing and works of charity for the relief of the poor) having a necessary dependance, as touching the external means, upon the due observation of the Fourth Commandment in the morality of it…”


David Calderwood

A Re-Examination of the Five Articles enacted at Perth anno 1618...  (1636), ‘Of the Sabbath’, pp. 185-86

“For honest games and pass-times, howbeit honest, may be [an] impediment to spiritual exercises, and distract the mind as much as the lawful works of our calling.  Refreshment by meat and drink was allowed by God Himself, when He provided for the seventh day, and by Christ Himself, who being invited, went to the pharisee’s house upon the sabbath to dinner.

A man may recreate himself with the free air of his garden or the fields, if family duties or the like hinder him not, providing he spend the time in holy exercises, or holy conference with some other.  But games and pass-times cannot consist with such holy exercises.”


George Walker

The Doctrine of the Sabbath…  (Amsterdam, 1638), ch. 21, p. 152.  Walker was a Westminster divine.

“A second sort of works allowed to be done on the Lord’s day: are bodily works and labors which are so necessary for the fitting and enabling of Christians to sanctify that day, and for bringing them unto holy and public assemblies and places of prayer and of God’s worship and holy service, that without such working and laboring even on that day they neither can be so fit and able to serve God joyfully, and to worship Him with cheerful hearts…

And because men cannot be so cheerful in the service of God, nor so heartily rejoice before Him, not with strength and delight spend the whole day in Sabbath duties, without warm and wholesome food, and plentiful refreshing of their weak bodies, therefore the dressing, boiling, baking and roasting of meat is lawful on the Lord’s day, so far as it more helps than hinders holy duties and the service of God.

This is manifest by the words of the law, Ex. 12:16, where the Lord forbidding all manner of work on his holy Sabbaths, excepts labour and work about that which people were to eat, and which was necessary for the upholding of an holy moderate feasting on those days.  This was practised by the Pharisees and by our Saviour and his apostles who on the Sabbath day came to a feast to the house of a chief Pharisee, Lk. 14:1.2.”


On Herbert Palmer

Samuel Clarke, The Lives of Two & Twenty English Divines eminent in their Generations...  (London: Underhill, 1660), ‘The Life of Master Herbert Palmer…  who died anno Christi 1647’, p. 227.  Palmer was a Westminster divine.  Clarke (1599–1683) was an English presbyterian puritan.

“And on the Sabbath-day itself, he was careful that they [his family] should not spend any part of it idly or vainly, no not in any unnecessary preparations of diet or the like, but only of such and so much as was necessary for their comfortable refreshment that day; but would have them spend the whole day, as much as might be, in the exercises of some of God’s ordinances publique or private…”


John White

A Way to the Tree of Life Discovered in Sundry Directions for the Profitable Reading of the Scriptures...  (1647), A Digression concerning the Morality of the Fourth Commandement, Section III, ‘The Morality & Perpetuity of the Sabbath Proved out of the Fourth Commandement’, pp. 294-95  White was a Westminster divine.

“The reasons by which it appears that this restraint of kindling a fire [by the Israelites in the wilderness] on the Sabbath day was only temporary, are these:

Secondly, this seems to cross our Savior’s general rule, Mk. 2:27, that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; He means for man’s comfort and refreshing, for which kindling of fire and dressing of meat may be, and are in a sort necessary.

Thirdly, our Savior allows the loosing of a beast from the stall, and leading of him to the water on the Sabbath day: now we know, the beast might be provided for by setting water in the stall overnight, which would refresh it sufficiently, and better than meat dressed overnight could comfort many men.

Fourthly, we find our Savior present at a great feast, Lk. 14:1, where many, and it seems persons of quality, verses 7, 12, were bidden: now it is very unlikely that the provisions for that feast were dressed over night; and if it were dressed on that day, neither would the Pharisee have permitted, nor our Savior have countenanced the dinner with his presence, if dressing of meat, kindling of fires on the Sabbath day, had been forbidden by the law.

Now why the dressing of manna, while the Israelites were in their peregrination in the wilderness was forbidden, though the dressing of other meats might be allowed afterwards, there may be some reason given.  For manna it may be…  as good and comfortable eaten cold as hot, and the preparing overnight, might be no inconvenience at all; howsoever it is out of question that in that unsetled condition of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, when they were enforced to pick up fuel, where they could get it, baking and boiling must needs be more troublesome and laborious than it was afterwards in Canaan, where being settled in their dwellings, they had all things whereof they were to make use for such works provided and ready at hand.”


John Angier

An Help to better Hearts for better Times endeavoured in Several Sermons…  (London: Meredith, 1647), ch. 4, pp. 373-74

“…seeing therefore there is such variety of God’s ordinances, such convenient time of rest and refreshing between the forenoon and afternoon [public] exercise, and due and timely finishing of the afternoon exercise, what but wearines does keep men from it?”


John Geree

Might Overcoming Right. Or a Clear Answer to Mr. John Goodwin’s Might and Right well met  (London: Bostock, 1649), ch. 1, section 3

“That saying of our Savior, that the Sabbath was not made for man etc. was not uttered by Him to show that the action of the disciples in plucking and eating the ears of corn was warranted by necessity against the command of the Sabbath, but that it was not within the prohibition of works on the Sabbath, which ordinarily is restrained to works of a civil or servile nature, not to natural refreshment, which is always indulged on the Sabbath and so that work of mercy is not under the prohibition, for the plucking of the ears of corn, when they were in the field was no more then drawing drink out of a vessel and of this opinion is learned [Martin] Chemnitz:

Hoc Christus it a defendit, ut simul ostendat extra casum contempus publici ministry, et turbationis cultus sabati propter otium externum Sabati, hominem ne levi quidē incommodo assiciendum.

‘By this Christ does so defend his disciples, as withal He shows that, out of the case of contempt of the public ministry and disturbance of the worships of the Sabbath, for the external rest of the Sabbath, a man is not to undergo the least damage.'”


Samuel Eaton

The Quakers Confuted...  (London: 1654), Queries 15-16, pp. 38-39  Eaton (1596?–1665) was a congregationalist puritan.

“…there was a morning and an evening-sacrifice, which were offered about the third and ninth hours; and there was a great expediency in it, that there might be some bodily refreshing betwlxt the times, and the necessity of nature was provided for in it, and Sabbath-exercises were distinguished thereby from fasts; and upon this accompt [account], it is equitable that Christian service should be carried for time after such manner:”


George Hutcheson

An Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to John  (London: Smith, 1657), ch. 7, vv. 21-23, p. 135.  Hutcheson was a Scottish covenanter.

“Some works, albeit they be not works of piety, yet are lawful, in so far us they are necessary means of, and have a tendency unto works of piety: So were they allowed a Sabbath day’s journey to go to their solemn meetings and worship, and the pains that men take in needful apparelling and refreshing of their bodies, and going to the public places of worship are no violation of the Sabbath, if they be done with a Sabbath day’s heart.”


Joseph Wilson

The Vanity of Human Inventions…  (London, 1666), p. 37

“Our Savior also had a law for the strict observation of the Sabbath day, yet when it came in competition with greater, such as those that concerned the propagation of the Gospel, and the necessary refreshment of his disciples, who had attended Him from place to place, to the neglect of their bodily sustenance, he urges it not, but justifies them in the nonobservance of it.

Nay, he did not only make that law to give place to the preaching of the Gospel and the necessary refreshment of his Disciples, but the helping of an ox or an ass out of the ditch.”


John Wells

The Practical Sabbatarian…  (London, 1668)  Wells was an English puritan.

ch. 4, ‘That Needless Recreations are Unlawful on the Sabbath’

The word ‘recreation’ is equivocal.  Indeed there is a recreation which is mercy, (viz.) the necessary refreshment of the body, as eating, drinking, resting itself, especially to those who have wearied themselves with labor; yea, to some sickly bodies, some ordinary, moderate and inoffensive recreations may be allowed, as a learned man observes.

But there is a recreation which we call sports and pastimes, when there is no necessity; and to allow this is no work of mercy; and if it be a mercy to the body, it is severity to the soul…”


ch. 23, ‘We must not only meditate on the God of the Sabbath, but on the Sabbath of God, in the morning of his holy day’, pp. 193-94

“There is a political end of the Sabbath, viz. The refreshment and recreative breathing of the outward man, a relaxation of the body from the pains and toil of the week; and therefore the Sabbath is called a rest.  It is said of God Himself that on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed, Ex. 31:17.

And how much more does poor man stand in need of rest and refreshment?  Death indeed fairly unpins our tabernacle of clay, folds it up and lays it in the grave, but too much labour tears it down; man’s body is taken down by death, is thrown down by too much toil, therefore the wearisome labours of the week must be allayed by the rest of the Sabbath.

The very name of a Sabbath signifies nothing but rest, strongly to argue, that that holy day was appointed for mans relaxation from the hurries of the world, and the sweats of the week.  The Sabbath is a rest to the body and a revival to the soul, the body’s ease, and the soul’s enjoyment; the outward man on the Sabbath recovers strength, and the inward man receives Christ: Our exhausted spirits on God’s holy day are sweetly recruited, and our importunate souls are rarely answered, they then prey upon a Christ offered in the Gospel.

Plato observes that the gods willing to recrui• mankind over-toiled with labour, in pity have appointed festival days for their ease and relaxation.  Thus that heathen philosopher gives in his verdict to this particular; Indeed God’s blessed Sabbath shores up a piece of clay, and it builds up a piece of eternity, the precious and the immortal soul.  The Sabbath is the body’s friend, and the soul’s fosterer; the body’s rest-time, and the soul’s term-time.”


ch. 46, ‘The Sanctification of the Sabbath is the Christian’s homage’

“And Eusebius in one of his Orations, in the praise of the Emperor Constantine…  saith he…  has appointed…  to celebrate the Lord’s festival, and has taken care, not only for the refreshing of bodies with the provisions of the creature, but for the feeding and supplies of the soul with discipline and divine repasts?”


Thomas Young

The Lord’s-Day, or a Succinct Narration compiled out of the Testimonies of Holy Scripture & the Reverend Ancient Fathers…  (London: Leach, 1672), bk. 1, ch. 13, pp. 227-28  Young was a Westminster divine.

“Lastly, if it were granted that Ambrose did entreat Count Arbogastes at a feast, whether will any believe it, who considers the austere life of Ambrose, chastising his body with that discipline (as Paulinus, ibidem) that he observed a daily fast, that he would distain himself with feasts on the Lord’s day which hindred the exercises of religion, either public or private?

Nay, truly, He might perhaps dine on the Lord’s day, as the custom of the Church required: but we must not believe that the grave father did fare so daintily on that day as that he could not attend the duties of piety: concerning which nature of feasts we are here speaking: in which number that is to [be] reckoned, which Baronius mentions out of Gregor. Turonens, who tells us of a certain presbyter, invading the Bishopric of Avergue, after the death of Sidonius Apollinaris, who, when the Lord’s day came, having prepared a banquet, commanded that all the citizens should be invited into the Church: a wickedness indeed beseeming the author, that he who had ambitiously invaded the Bishops’ See, against the Canons of the Church, should violate the Lord’s solemnity by his feast, that hindered the duties of divine worship: which unlawful example, I hope nobody that relishes anything of Christ will follow.

And now I will conclude with St. Austin [Augustine] (Epistle 86), that none can rightly deny that a Christian may on the Lord’s day be refreshed with a moderate and sober dinner, and also will affirm with that grave father, that those who fear God must not riot on the Lord’s Day.”


Richard Baxter

ch. 18, ‘Directions for the Holy Spending of the Lord’s Day in Families, with More Particular Directions for the Order of Holy Duties on that Day’, Title 1  in A Christian Directory…  (London: White, 1673), vol. 4, ‘Christian Economics’, p. 572

“If you see a man walking abroad on the Lord’s day, censure him not till you know that he does it from profaneness or negligence: You know not but it may be necessary to his health, and he may improve it in holy meditation?”


James Durham

The Law Unsealed: or a Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments...  (Glasgow, 1676), 4th Commandment

p. 146

“…so on the seventh day does the Lord allow so much conveniency of sleep and other refreshing, as may be subservient for the main end of the day, these being works of mercy and necessity, which Christ allowed on the Sabbath, which was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”


p. 171

“6. Works of comliness, tending to honest or decent walking

By all which believers have allowance: 1. for piety, 2. for charity, 3. for what is needful for their beasts, 4. what is needful and convenient, or comely for themselves; and more is not necessary: In these the Lord has not straightned them, neither has He pinched and pinned them up to absolute necessity, but has left them to walk by Christian prudence (yet so as they may not exceed) for the disciples possibly might have endured that hunger, and not plucked the ears of corn, or beasts may live a day without water, and not be much the worse, or some sort of victuals may be provided to be set beside men on the Sabbath needing no dressing or preparing; yea, a man may live on little or nothing for one day:

but the Lord has thought good not to straighten them, so as to make his day and worship a weariness and burden unto them, seeing He has made the Sabbath for man, to be refreshing to him, and not man for the Sabbath; nor will he have their consciences to be fettered with inextricable scruples:

He leaveth it to men on other days how much to eat and drink by a Christian prudence (yet allows them not to exceed even on these) so here there is some latitude left to conscientious reason to walk by; for some may do something at one time, and not at another, yea, one man may take more pains in upholding his body than is called for from another who is stronger, so that it’s impossible to set particular rules which will agree to all, but [that] men would look: 1. to their end, 2. to their need, 3. to what may conveniently attain the end.”


John Owen

Exercitation XL, ‘The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’  in Commentary on Hebrews  (d. 1683), vol. 1 (of 4), p. 749

“2. Refreshments helpful to nature, so far as to refresh it, that it may have a supply of spirits to go on cheerfully in the duties of holy worship are lawful and useful.  Τo macerate the body with abstinences on this day is required of none; and to turn it into a fast or to fast upon it is generally condemned by the ancients.

Wherefore, to forbear provision of necessary food for families on this day is Mosaic; and the enforcement of the particular precepts about not kindling fire in our houses on this day, baking and preparing the food of it the day before, cannot be insisted on without a reintroduction of the seventh day precisely, to whose observance they were annexed, and thereby of the law and spirit of the old covenant.

Provided always that these refreshments be: 1. Seasonable for the time of them, and not when public duties require our attendance on them. 2nd. Accompanied with a singular regard to the rules of temperance; as:

1. That there be no appearance of evil.  2. That nature be not charged with any kind of excess, so far as [to make one] to be hindered rather than assisted in the duties of the day.  3. That they be accompanied with gravity, and sobriety, and purity of conversation.

Now, whereas these things are in the substance of them required of us in the whole course of our lives, as we intend to please God, and to come to the enjoyment of him, none ought to think an especial regard unto them on this day to be a bondage, or troublesome unto them.”


Matthew Poole

Annotations upon the Holy Bible. Vol. II…  (London: Parkhurst, 1685), on Mt. 12, v. 2 margin note

“How blind is superstition, that they [the Pharisees] could think that it was contrary to the will of God that his people should fit themselves for the service of the Sabbath by a moderate refreshment?…

What a little thing do they carp at?  Wherein was the sin, the plucking of a few ears of corn, and rubbing them, could hardly be called servile labor, especially not in the sense of the commandment, which restrained not necessary labour, but such labor as took them off from the duties of the Sabbath, but their tradition had made this unlawful…”


Samuel Willard

A Complete Body of Divinity…  (Boston, 1726), Sermon 172, Q. 60, pp. 584-88

“4. Hence that the body may be fit to discharge these duties aright there is something to be done for it on that Day.  The body has a dependence on means for the maintaining of the vigor and activity of it whereby it may be fit to attend the service it is appointed to without tiring, fainting or giving in: and it stands in need of this as well for Sabbath service, as for the business of this life; for we are to do these with our might, as well as the other: whatsoever is requisite for this, must be very proper for the Day…”



On Children & Recreation on the Sabbath

“…there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed. (1 Cor. 11:13,14; 14:26,40)”

WCF 1.6


Order of Quotes




Lane Keister

‘The Sabbath Day & Recreations on the Sabbath…’  in Confessional Presbyterian, #5 (2009), p. 323

“Therefore, if the activity is conducive to worship, then it is lawful.  We cannot ignore the human conscience here either, since an activity that might be conducive for worship to one person may not be conducive to worship for someone else.

To take one example, it is certainly wise to let small children let loose some of their excess energy on the Sabbath (contrary to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy! [below]).  Otherwise, they will not be able to sit still and pay attention in worship.  One does not have to take the attitude of Almanzo Wilder’s father [in Farmer Boy] in order to have a Puritan view of what is acceptable on the Sabbath!

It is certainly a work of necessity to do something about the energy of small children.  We must avoid both extremes of legalism and antinomianism here, as well as everywhere in our treatment of the law.”


John Owen

Exercitation XL, ‘The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’  in Commentary on Hebrews  (d. 1683), vol. 1 (of 4), pp. 748-49

$19. 4. Although the day be wholly to be dedicated to the ends of a sacred rest before insisted on, yet,

1. Duties in their performance drawn out to such a length as to beget wearisomeness and satiety, tend not to edification, nor do any way promote the sanctification of the name of God in the worship itself.  Regard, therefore, in all such performances is to be had:

1. Unto the weakness of the natural constitution of some, the infirmities and indispositions of others, who are not able to abide in the outward part of duties, as others can.  And there is no wise shepherd but will rather suffer the stronger sheep of his flock to lose somewhat of what they might reach to in his guidance of them, than to compel the weaker to keep pace with them to their hurt, and it may be their ruin.  Better a great number should complain of the shortness of some duties, who have strength and desires for a longer continuance in them, than that a few who are sincere should be really discouraged by being overburdened, and have the service thereby made useless unto them.

I always loved in sacred duties that observation of Seneca concerning the orations of Cassius Severus, when they heard him, ‘Timebamus ne desineret,’ ‘We were afraid that he would end.’

2. To the spiritual edge of the affections of men, which ought to be whetted, and not through tediousness in duties abated and taken off.”


Laura Ingalls Wilder

Farmer Boy  in Little House on the Prairie  (1933), ch. 8, ‘Sunday’

“After dinner [lunch] Eliza Jane and Alice did the dishes, but Father and Mother and Royal and Almanzo did nothing at all.  The whole afternoon they sat in the drowsy warm dining-room.  Mother read the Bible and Eliza Jane read a book, and Father’s head nodded till he woke with a jerk, and then it began to nod again.

Royal fingered the wooden chain that he could not whittle, and Alice looked for a long time out of the window.  But Almanzo just sat.  He had to.  He was not allowed to do anything else, for Sunday was not a day for working or playing.  It was a day for going to church and for sitting still.

Almanzo was glad when it was time to do the chores.”



Barth, Paul – ‘Honoring the Sabbath with your Children’  (2016)  15 paragraphs, 5 pieces of advice, with resources

Five pieces of advice:

1. Keep them in Public Worship
2. Review the Worship Service
3. Give Time to Nap
4. Have Toys related to the Lord’s Day
5. Have Dessert & Catechism



Historical Theology

On Calvin

Coldwell, Chris – ‘Did Calvin Bowl on the Sabbath? or, Calvin in the Hands of the Philistines’  (1998 / 2007)  97 paragraphs

Some have claimed that Calvin went lawn bowling on the Sabbath, however this claim did not appear until 1824, and that only in an anti-Calvin and anti-Sabbatarian work.  Needless to say there is no historical documentation for such a claim and it goes against the direct words of Calvin.


Scottish Reformation

Todd, Margo – p. 32  in The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland  (Yale University Press, 2002)


On King James’ Book of Sports  1618

Dennison, James – pp. 54-58  in The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700  (1983)

Primus, John – pp. 95-97  in Holy Time: Moderate Puritanism & the Sabbath  (Mercer Univ. Press, 1989)


On Westminster

Keister, Lane – The Sabbath Day & Recreations on the Sabbath: An Examination of the Sabbath & the Biblical Basis for the “No Recreation” Clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 & Westminster Larger Catechism 117′  Buy  in Confessional Presbyterian, #5 (2009), pp. 229-38


On English Puritanism

Dennison, James – Appendix 2, ‘The Puritan Attitude Toward Recreation’  in The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England, 1532-1700  (1983), pp. 144-45




“Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.”

Ex. 23:12

“At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.”

Mt. 12:1

“And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household…”

Dt. 14:26




Related Pages


The Lord’s Day

The Whole Lord’s Day is Sanctified

When Does the Lord’s Day Begin?

What Does Keeping the Lord’s Day Entail?

Works of Necessity & Mercy on the Lord’s Day

Westminster Divines on the Lord’s Day

‘Continental View of the Sabbath’

Calvin on Keeping the Lord’s Day

Bible Verses on Preparation for Communion with God

Religious Holidays