Here is part 3 of our exposition of Hemmingsen’s comments on Col. 2.16-17, in which we look at rules (regulae) 4-6 that ought to govern Christian observance of festivals.
FOURTH, the Jewish sabbath was a type and figure of Christians’ spiritual sabbath, which indeed ought to be perpetual, as Isaiah 66 teaches. This sabbath is really nothing other than rest from sins, which is to be thoroughly kept in practice every single day. FIFTH, the Christian should beware lest he, under the pretext of Christian liberty, obstinately scorn the festivals of Christians. For he who does this shamefully violates both the useful order of the church and maliciously harms others by his example. SIXTH, it is a profanation of festivals directed that serves as an affront to God to take their leisure, free time, and ability and occasion they present for committing any wicked deeds more shamelessly and in greater number than at any other time. Hence the law of pious princes about festival days: we wish festival days–days dedicated to the most high Majesty–not to be filled up with any pleasures.1
- Hemmingsen reads the sabbath of the Old Covenant typologically or, as one might put it, “continentally.” The old sabbath was a figure of a spiritual reality: rest from sins and one’s own dead works. As a shadow, it is therefore not any longer to be associated with a particular day of the week after the “body,” which is Christ, has come, but is rather to be observed each and every day. I say it is “continental” because one finds the same thing in, say, Calvin, Institutes 2.8.28: “The purport of the commandment is, that being dead to our own affections and works, we meditate on the kingdom of God, and in order to such meditation, have recourse to the means which he has appointed. But as this commandment stands in peculiar circumstances apart from the others, the mode of exposition must be somewhat different. Early Christian writers are wont to call it typical, as containing the external observance of a day which was abolished with the other types on the advent of Christ. This is indeed true; but it leaves the half of the matter untouched. Wherefore, we must look deeper for our exposition, and attend to three cases in which it appears to me that the observance of this commandment consists. First, under the rest of the seventh days the divine Lawgiver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which believers were to cease from their own works, and allow God to work in them.” Again, in 3.8.29: “…[T]he sabbath is a sign by which Israel might know that God is their sanctifier. If our sanctification consists in the mortification of our own will, the analogy between the external sign and the thing signified is most appropriate. We must rest entirely, in order that God may work in us; we must resign our own will, yield up our heart, and abandon all the lusts of the flesh. In short, we must desist from all the acts of our own mind, that God working in us, we may rest in him, as the Apostle also teaches (Heb. 3:13; 4:3, 9).” Again, 3.8.31: “It is of little consequence which of these [explanations] be adopted, provided we lose not sight of the principal thing delineated—viz. the mystery of perpetual resting from our works.”
- Calvin too uses this passage of Colossians as a proof-text twice in this section. First, in 2.8.31: “Still there can be no doubt, that, on the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, the ceremonial part of the commandment was abolished. He is the truth, at whose presence all the emblems vanish; the body, at the sight of which the shadows disappear. He, I say, is the true completion of the sabbath: “We are buried with him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life,” (Rom. 6:4). Hence, as the Apostle elsewhere says, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ,” (Col. 2:16, 17); meaning by body the whole essence of the truth, as is well explained in that passage. This is not contented with one day, but requires the whole course of our lives, until being completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God. Christians, therefore, should have nothing to do with a superstitious observance of days.”
- Next, in 2.8.33, in which his basic distinction of the two kingdoms is evident: “I am obliged to dwell a little longer on this because some restless spirits are now making an outcry about the observance of the Lord’s day. They complain that Christian people are trained in Judaism, because some observance of days is retained. My reply is, That those days are observed by us without Judaism, because in this matter we differ widely from the Jews. We do not celebrate it with most minute formality, as a ceremony by which we imagine that a spiritual mystery is typified, but we adopt it as a necessary remedy for preserving order in the Church. Paul informs us that Christians are not to be judged in respect of its observance, because it is a shadow of something to come (Col. 2:16); and, accordingly, he expresses a fear lest his labour among the Galatians should prove in vain, because they still observed days (Gal. 4:10, 11). And he tells the Romans that it is superstitious to make one day differ from another (Rom. 14:5). But who, except those restless men, does not see what the observance is to which the Apostle refers? Those persons had no regard to that politic and ecclesiastical arrangement, but by retaining the days as types of spiritual things, they in so far obscured the glory of Christ, and the light of the Gospel. They did not desist from manual labour on the ground of its interfering with sacred study and meditation, but as a kind of religious observance; because they dreamed that by their cessation from labour, they were cultivating the mysteries which had of old been committed to them. It was, I say, against this preposterous observance of days that the Apostle inveighs, and not against that legitimate selection which is subservient to the peace of Christian society.”
- The position of Hemmingsen and Calvin finds parallels in the Second Helvetic Confession 24 as well as Luther’s Large Catechism.
- Basic spiritual liberty in this respect cannot however be used as an excuse to scorn church ordinances that have been put in place for man’s spiritual benefit. To do so is to violate good order and to fail to love one’s neighbor. Man needs to hear the Word of God, and so one should not discourage others from gathering to do so.
- Hemmingsen believes that such days should be kept soberly and seriously, and not used for a pretense for bad behavior that is not permitted on other days in any case, but for which greater opportunity might be found on a day of rest.
- By voluptates in his sixth rule Hemmingsen presumably has sensual pleasures in mind, and in particular perhaps things such as sports, shows, and spectacles (a fairly regular meaning of the term in the plural).