A Review of The Market Day of the Soul: The Puritan Doctrine of the Sabbath in England 1532-1700
Culturally in our day, the Lord’s Day is too often treated no differently than the other six days of the week. With the exception of the morning worship service, the setting apart of the Lord’s Day as a special day is increasingly absent in the thinking of many Christians. As I read Dennison’s book, I could not help but think how much has been lost regarding a Biblical understanding of the Lord’s Day.
As English society moved out of the medieval era and into the Puritan era, attention was turned to a proper keeping of the Lord’s Day. Behind this issue was a bigger one: who has the authority to determine the proper use of the Lord’s Day—civil government, the church, or God?
Puritan authors increasingly set themselves against the monarchy and the established church by faithfully and consistently arguing that God alone has this authority. The author does a fine job in setting forth and explaining the various views that contended for acceptance as well as showing the mindset of authorities toward the different interpretations of the fourth Commandment.
Dennison divides his discussion into four chapters. After he has explained medieval thinking on this subject, he uses subsequent chapters to explain the development and acceptance of Puritan teaching on the Lord’s Day. These years, 1603–1650, saw the Lord’s Day practice move from a day for the playing of sports as decreed by the monarchy to a day in which worship, rest, and deeds of necessity and mercy predominated. With this victory the battle was not won. As with any spiritual battle, the issue is one’s heart. Dennison ably explains how this was an issue in the years that followed the 1650s. In his final chapter he provides a summary of his work and concluding remarks.
Appendices include a chapter on the Puritan view on recreation on the Lord’s Day and a chart clearly setting forth various views on the fourth Commandment in the Puritan era.
This volume is well worth your reading time. It teaches the high price that was paid by a number of Puritans in order to establish a Biblical view of the Lord’s Day in the culture of their day. America was the recipient of this wealth in practice for many generations.
We are seeing within our own day the same questions arising regarding the Lord’s Day with which the Puritans had to deal. Is the Lord’s Day a Creation ordinance? Is there a need to keep the entire first day of the week as a separate day since there is no command to do so in the New Testament? Who is the final determiner for how the day is to be spent? Is there a place for recreation on the Lord’s Day?
Dennison provides numerous quotes from authors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as a list of his sources. Both add to the value of the book.
Puritan writers were convinced that the Lord’s Day was the market day for one’s soul. It is a special time God gives for the soul to lay up spiritual provisions that enable one to better serve God in a fallen world. We need to give much thinking to this concept.
This volume provides pathways for this pondering and points us to return to Scripture as the basis on which to build our understanding and practice of a right use of the Lord’s Day.