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; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

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



Order of Contents

Prohibited Recreations  8+
Lawful Recreation  6
Historical Theology  5



Prohibited Recreations on the Lord’s Day


The Westminster Confession of Faith

Ch. 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; 16:23; 31:15; Isa. 58:13 and Neh. 13:15-19,21-22″





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.

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.

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)

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)




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 out 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.”



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.




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.”


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 fruit∣ful, 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 Perkins

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.”


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.”


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).”



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.


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 the 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