My own experience, growing up in Presbyterian Protestantism (four generations of Church of Scotland ministers) gave me the distinct impression that many influential people in that section of Christendom were treating 'Sunday' or 'the sabbath' as an opportunity to load heavy burdens on the congregation.

I remember exhortations along the lines of 'you must think spiritual thoughts all day on a Sunday' and 'you must not let your mind wander'.

Does Presbyterian Protestantism really believe that the sabbath is to be 'rest'? Or do they believe it is one day out of seven in which maximum religious exertion should occur?

For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Hebrews 4:10.

  • This is a much more focused question than your first attempt, but it still suffers from being too broad. Not all Presbyterians are created equal. Many modern Presbyterian denominations have become so liberal they don't even believe there is anything special about the Sabbath, others have become legalistic about it and made the implementation one of their defining principles. I'm not sure where one would even start answering this question. I could tell you my views, but I'm not sure that would answer the question as framed.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 7:00
  • Beyond the scope issue, this also sounds a little bit like a "stump the chumps" question where you have a right answer in mind and are just trying to prove somebody or some group wrong. It is framed as a question, but your last paragraph in particular sounds like you've already decided something is wrong and the question is more of a polemic against it that a question about it. Maybe that's not what you meant, I'm just saying that reading this sounds a bit like that.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 7:03
  • Ways to improve the question: if you could find any direct quotes from Pressies prescribing the approach you're asking about. Asking which of the Westminster Standards support such an approach. Asking how they support it Biblically.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 8:35
  • @Caleb My question is genuine. The issue of the sabbath is extremely important which I believe is why Deity implemented it in the first place, in Israel, setting aside a day in which humanity would discover something about themselves. And my question is - regarding those who, above all, are famous for keeping the sabbath (rather than neglecting it) - What have they discovered about the activity ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 9:30
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    You might try asking a question directed specifically at confessional (whether WCF or Three Forms of Unity) Presbyterian Sabbatarianism asking about the basis and implementation of their version of Sabbath. The answer to that might be the most fruitful place to start on this topic, and then branch off to ask about other non Sabbatarian groups' beliefs and reasoning.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 9:35

2 Answers 2


The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding Sabbath day observance may help to explain why you were exhorted to “think spiritual thoughts all day on a Sunday” and that “you must not let your mind wander”:

  1. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

  2. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, 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. https://www.rts.edu/Site/About/Reformed_tradition/WestminsterConfession/wc_ch21.aspx

It has been my observation that SOME Protestant denominations place great emphasis on what could be described as “maximum religious exertion” by running around like headless chickens on a Sunday, from dawn to dusk, participating in church-related activities. However, the Westminster Confession does advocate observing a day of rest from secular activities (including employment and recreation). No doubt those Protestant Christians who are actively engaged in Sunday services do so gladly and willingly and would not describe it as “work.”

Although I am not in a position to comment on the Presbyterian view of the Sabbath, the Bible has this advice with regard to all who participate in Sunday worship and observation of the Sabbath:

1 Corinthians 10:23-32: “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others... For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

Colossians 2:13: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”

  • Answer accepted due to the very appropriate quote at the end from Colossians. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 11:16

Experience of Presbyterian Protestantism did not come my way till my mid-20s, after I left the neither Presbyterian nor Protestant faith I’d been brought up in. Their Sundays required meeting attendance in the morning then all afternoon proselytising. The evenings were free to watch TV. You do not ask for non-Presbyterian or non-Protestant Sunday practices but I mention that group to show that you don’t have to be either to make Sunday a day of religious work and works – everyone was required to attend very long meetings (babies and children too, with no creche or teaching suited to children); ditto for the proselytising, no matter the predominantly cold, wet weather either. They feared their salvation might be jeopardised if they didn’t work hard at such things.

Thus it was a relief to enter into a Presbyterian church where Sunday burdens were removed. I began to really enjoy the option of either or both morning and early evening worship, with freedom the rest of the day to just enjoy being with family and doing whatever we fancied. Many years later I moved to what might be called a much more ‘strict’ Presbyterian church and noticed differences. This was when I made a study of the subject and some of my discoveries are now gleaned from papers I wrote and books I read.

Most of the religious people I know (from a broad spectrum of Protestant denominations) accept that there is a vital spiritual need to desist all seven days of the week from one’s own works, to rest in the finished work of Christ – in accord with your quote from Hebrews 4:10. Christians must not strive to be justified by good works; they do good works any day of the week because they have been justified by God. This, however, is understood to be done in tandem with resting physically one particular day of the week, which is simultaneously devoted to considering the things of God, especially in public worship, more-so than any other day of the week. The basis for this is the fourth of the Ten Commandments as all of them apply for all time to God’s people (Exodus 20:8-11). The principle of Sabbath-keeping was established early in Genesis and although Christians believe in the spiritual sense of desisting from one’s own works, that does not negate desisting from physical works one day in six when attention is particularly given to God in a way that is generally not possible the rest of the week.

There is profound wisdom in humans doing no physical labour whatsoever one day out of seven, not least pacing themselves so that they can comfortably do six day’s work without burn-out. But when they do that so as to turn their attention to the things of God, then their blessedness is greatly increased. Yet it was not until I belatedly tried to observe Sunday as ‘the Lord’s Day’ and not a day for myself, that I discovered how almost impossibly hard it was to do that! The personal struggle was immense until, that is, I read chapters 6 & 7 in the book ‘The Ten Commandments For Today’ by (the Presbyterian) Brian H. Edwards (Day One publishers, 1996). He dealt with how Christ is our Lord of the Sabbath, the purpose of the Sabbath, and how to keep it holy without falling into the unholy trap of legalism.

The difficult bit is avoiding the legalistic attitudes that some ‘Reformed’ Christians exhibit. It appears that in their desire for ‘their’ denominations to be seen to be keeping the Sabbath day holy, they have felt the need to impose rules and regulations on ‘their’ congregations, to prevent them doing what they, the leaders, have deemed would make that day ‘unholy’ (like children playing, or anybody washing their hair – I kid you not; that was a rule a Presbyterian father made in his household, the grown-up daughter told me.)

The moment any Christian submits to a list of rules not in the Bible, or believes they must get another Christian’s permission to do something on the Lord’s Day, they have abused the Christian freedom for which Christ died. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states,

“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men.” Chap. XX: Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience, 20:2.

This apparently does not apply in some Reformed circles where pressure can be put even on non-Christians to stick to their rules about Sabbath-observance. Take the case of a lady greeting her holiday tenants who arrive on Saturday night with, “We don’t hang our washing out on the Sabbath.” No matter that in the back seat of the car there was a fractious baby and a toddler who had been sick (and still in nappies). She would tolerate no washing hanging out on her property on the Sabbath! Fair enough. It’s her property, but why wait till Saturday night before telling her clients that? And what if her clients are atheists who don’t even believe God exists? How is that stipulation going to recommend Christ to them, never mind the fact that the lady cannot legitimately say, “We”, as if atheists were included?

Further, why is it always issues regarding what women and children have to do (or not do) that is raised by religious legalists? Have you ever heard a Reformed Christian say, “We don’t wash our cars on a Sunday?” No, I thought not. The following quotes, however, are written by Christian men who hate legalistic attitudes in the church and who know that nobody’s salvation depends on that:

“Liberty in Christ is not only freedom from customs which restrict love, but also freedom to take a lower place, to humble oneself to serve.” Ben Witherington III, p 108, ‘Women and the Genesis of Christianity’

“A clean conscience and pure heart are never possible on the basis of religious behaviours… they are already ours because of Jesus.” D Johnson & J van Vondern, p87 ‘The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse’

“Our freedom is dearly bought, mercifully revealed, freely bestowed, and fully conveyed to us by the Spirit of Christ.” S. Bolton, p219 ‘The True Bounds of Christian Freedom’

Legalism always restricts love and it often goes hand in glove with not lifting a finger to help the poor folk so restricted. Let the last word on observing the Lord’s Day go to the Christian who wrote, “Stand fast, therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1

  • 1
    Regarding "We don’t wash our cars on a Sunday" the Sabbatarian Reformed that I know certainly wouldn't!
    – Birdie
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:51
  • 2
    Regarding the rest of your answer, most of it seems to be more focused on convincing someone rather than simply answering the question. This isn't an appropriate place to argue for a position or debate people, so you might consider editing your answer to make it more on-topic.
    – Birdie
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:52
  • It is entirely true, Birdie, that the public washing of cars on the Lord's Day is equally taboo as is hanging out washing in public. The point is, it's always womens' work that is voiced as the near-criminal offence not to commit. And what children would do. I have put both sides of the case in my answer, for I have moved from not bothering about resting on the Lord's day and to glorify him to now doing so. I considered rearranging my answer to put the negative side first but that would make no material difference so I'm leaving it as it is. I appreciate your comments.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 10:55
  • I don't believe it is true that "it's always women's work" that must not be done. That may have been your experience, but that isn't indicative of Presbyterian teaching on the subject.
    – Birdie
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 22:33
  • To clarify, I never said it's always women's work that must not be done. I said it's always women's work (and children's play) that is publicly exemplified by Christian men as representing the Sabbatarian stance. I'm making a distinction between Presbyterian teaching and public examples which seems to betray a degree of legalistic attitudes that detract from the loveliness of 'resting in the Lord'.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 7:23

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