Blog 66: 2.8.33 - 2.8.38

Paul Helm

Calvin's understanding of the Fourth Commandment is notably  restrained. Its present rationale has chiefly to do with the ordering of public worship at a set time, appropriately enough a time (or times) during the day of the Lord's resurrection. But remembering it must have a lenient or liberal tone, and not be superstitious. No day is more holy than any other, and so observance of the Lord's day does not make that day 'spiritual' above the others. If other churches make other arrangements, don't fuss about it.

Calvin's general way of interpreting the law is evident here, and also in his treatment of the commands that follow.  None of them are to be interpreted in a restrictive way. We are not to keep the Lord's day as if it alone is holy. We are not to honour our father and mother as if they alone are worthy of honour, but they represent all those who are set over us in positions of authority. Honour to whom honour is due, fear to whom fear. 'By that subjection which is easiest to tolerate, the Lord therefore gradually accustoms us to all lawful subjection, since the reason of all is the same.'. (2.8.35)  As with his treatment of the Sabbath day, Calvin blends the teaching of the Testaments. Obedience to those in authority is only to be 'in the Lord', though elsewhere he is notably cautious on the legitimacy of civil disobedience.
Regarding the promise attached to the fifth commandment and its implied threat, obedience to authority does not guarantee long life, despite the promise, but it entails divine blessing which a long-life may or may not express.  Similarly, the implied threat does not ensure shortness of life, but a life 'bereft of blessing'.