An excellent overview of early Reformed doctrine on the Sabbath:
REV. EDWARD HOARE, M.A. on the Roman Catholic approach to the Sabbath. It’s interesting that many Protestants today treat the Sabbath the same way. I was taught this view of the Sabbath in the Anglican church as a child [emphasis added]:
“The same principle appears in the Romish treatment of the Lord’s-day. The moral commandment of the Most High God is abandoned, and for it you find in many Romish catechisms the substitute of human ritual, “Thou shalt keep the festivals.” And this appears in the universal practice of Romish countries. They appear to regard it as a duty to attend mass, but that once done, the whole day is devoted to amusement. The rite is observed, and the conscience satisfied, so that the unregenerate heart is left at full liberty to pursue its own course, and take its pleasure on the Lord’s holy day. Thus the same persons who are engaged in the utmost apparent devotion at mass in the morning are found in throngs in the dissolute French theatre at night. “Attend to the Church’s rites and live as you please,” appears to be the maxim of their morality.”
Source: POPERY THE ACCOMMODATION OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE NATURAL HEART at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42280/42280-h/42280-h.htm, p. 16
A note on Sabbath desecration from the New York Times on September 18, 1906 (p. 9) regarding visitors flocking to a zoo to see Ota Benga, an African Pygmy, being displayed in the monkey house as an example of a lower-evolved humanoid life form [emphasis mine]:
“There were 40,000 visitors to the park on Sunday. Nearly every man, woman and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park — the wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds all day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.”
~”African Pygmy’s Fate is Still Undecided; Director Hornaday of the Bronx Park Throws Up His Hands. Asylum Doesn’t Take Him; Benga Meanwhile Laughs and Plays with a Ball and Mouth Organ at the ame Time” qtd in The Darwin Effect: It’s influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism & Sexism by Jerry Bergman (Master Books, 2014), p.183-184 (incorrect form of “its” occurs in original title)
I have had many conversations with modern professing Christians who say we no longer need to observe the Sabbath/Lord’s Day. I was taught the same thing in many of the churches I used to attend. This article shows that disregard of the Sabbath has been going on for over a century (in fact, far longer). Here we see that for 40,000 people, going to the zoo to gape at an unfortunate man was more important than attending worship services or allowing others to do the same. Should that really be cause for celebration?
“… our audience in corporate worship is not people. Corporate worship is not about pleasing people, whether ourselves, the congregation, or unbelieving seekers. Worship in the corporate gathering is about renewing our covenant with God by meeting with Him and relating to Him in ways that He has prescribed. We do this specifically by hearing and heeding His Word, confessing our own sinfulness and our dependence on Him, thanking Him for his goodness to us, bringing our requests before Him, confessing His truth, and lifting our voices and instruments to Him in response to and in accord with the way that He has revealed Himself in His Word.”
~Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church
Dr. A.A. Hodge:
DIFFERENT Christian nations and different denominations, and each denomination at different periods of its history, have entertained very various sentiments and followed very diverse customs with respect to the observation of the weekly Sabbath, as well as with respect to every other Christian ordinance and practical duty. Notwithstanding this fact, however, the whole historical Christian world, Catholic and evangelical, has always been agreed as to the truth of the following propositions:
1. The institution of the Sabbath rests upon the physical, moral and religious nature of man, as that nature exists under the conditions of his life in this world.
2. In conformity with this fact, God instituted the Sabbath at the creation of man setting apart the seventh day for that purpose, and imposed observance as a universal and obligation upon the race.
3. After the resurrection of Christ, instead of abrogating an old and introducing a new institution, God, through his inspired agents, perpetuated the Sabbath, re-imposing it upon Christians with increased obligations, and by changing the day from the seventh to the first day of the week enriched it with new and higher significance…
Here is a great thought from Lane Keister on how to figure out whether or not an activity is pleasing to God on the Sunday Christian Sabbath:
“On what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath, there is endless debate, stretching all the way back to Talmudic times (the Talmud has an entire treatise on the Sabbath). Rather than asking about a specific activity, as to whether or not it is lawful (and usually with the mindset of what the person can get away with), it is more helpful to remember that the rest in view is not simply physical rest, but rather a rest of worshipping the Lord. 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!). 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 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.”
~”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″ in The Confessional Presbyterian, Volume 5 (2009)
Dr. Joel Beeke:
“Central to the concern fostered by Reformed Christianity to apply the moral law to Christian living has been the sanctification of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath. If there was any degree of ambiguity among the Reformers of the sixteenth century, it had utterly vanished when, in the midst of the seventeenth century, the Westminster divines assembled to write their Confession of Faith (Chapter 21) … . This high view of the Sabbath won the day in Britain, North America, throughout the British Empire, and also in the Netherlands. Though it was a key concern of the Reformed Christians, Sabbath observance was embraced as a rule by Christians of nearly every denomination. In the wake of the powerful revivals of the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Sabbath-keeping was embraced by the general population as well.
This happy state of affairs prevailed throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Large urban centers such as Philadelphia and Toronto were known for the care with which the Sabbath was observed by their inhabitants. Until the end of the nineteenth century, some major railroads ceased operations on Sundays. Seaside resorts took such measures as banning all motor traffic from the streets on Sundays (Ocean Grove, N.J.) and the use of movie houses for public worship on Sunday evenings (Ocean City, N.J.).
Today’s scene presents a vastly altered aspect. The forces of secularization and the rise of leisure culture, obsessed with pursuing recreations of all kinds, have extinguished concern for Sabbath observance in the general population. Even more tragic is the steady erosion of conviction on the part of Christians. The greatest damage was done by modernism’s attack on the authority of Scripture, thus undermining and overthrowing all biblical norms for living. However, Fundamentalism must also bear its share of the blame. Under the influence of Dispensationalism, a growing antinomianism developed in the most conservative circles of American Christians. The Old Testament in general, and the moral law in particular, came to be regarded as monuments of a bygone era. The result has been the wholesale destruction of conviction regarding the Sabbath, even among Presbyterians who subscribe to the Westminster Standards – notwithstanding the jarring inconsistency involved!
Surely the time is ripe for Christians to look once more to God’s Word for instruction regarding the fourth commandment and its claims upon us. If for no other reason, the study should be undertaken in view of the mounting evidence of the high degree of destructive stress lurking behind the appealing facade of the so-called “culture of leisure.” Men are destroying themselves because they cannot say no, whether at work or at play. Great spiritual blessings are promised to those who subject themselves to the self-denying discipline of Sabbath observance.”
~Puritan Reformed Spirituality, pp. 111-112