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



Order of Contents

Westminster Confession
Historical Theology  2
Quote  1
On Lawful Recreation  1




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 recreationsbut 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



Historical Theology

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. 

Keister, Lane – The Sabbath Day and Recreations on the Sabbath: An Examination of the Sabbath and the Biblical Basis for the “No Recreation” Clause in Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8 and Westminster Larger Catechism 117  Buy  from the Confessional Presbyterian, #5 (2009), p. 229-238




Nicholas Bownd  1595

The True Doctrine of the Sabbath (Naphtali Press and Reformation Heritage Books, 2015) pp. 152-3, 167, 267-268.  HT: Chris Coldwell.

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. [PL39, 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.



On Lawful Recreation

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).”




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The Lord’s Day