Ex. xx. 8. Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.
The Sabbath may be contemplated from many different points of view. It may be considered in its influence on the powers of our nature exhausted through six days of anxiety and toil; in the necessity which is laid in our very constitution by the Author of our being for periodical seasons of relaxation and repose; in its influence on the intellect of an individual or a people by its directing the attention to topics adapted to elevate and expand the soul; in the aid which.it furnishes to the magistrate in promoting the observance of law; in its influence on neighbourhoods and families in promoting social feeling, and refined intercourse; in its bearing on the civil liberties of a nation, and in its indispensible necessity in preparing for the life to come. Each one of these points would furnish an ample topic of discourse; and by the arguments which might be accumulated on these topics we could satisfy any reasonable mind of the value and importance of the Sabbath. But I wish at this time to present a different train of thought from what would be furnished by either of these points. I design particularly to address Christians; and to urge upon their minds some considerations why they should feel a special interest in the proper observance of this day.
I. The first consideration which I shall suggest is, that if the Sabbath is abolished, the Christian religion will be abolished with it. The question whether this day is to be observed or desecrated, is just a question of life and death in. regard to Christianity. This is so obvious that it scarcely needs any attempt to prove it. Without a Sabbath our public institutions designed to -promote and perpetuate religion would cease; our Sabbath-schools would be disbanded ; family instruction would soon come to an end; the sanctuaries would be closed ;-thc ministry
dismissed and discarded; the current of worldly affairs would be unbroken; plans of evil would meet with no interruption; and all the means of grace would be at once arrested. Christians might meet at irregular and distant intervals for prayer and praise; but the number of such meetings would rapidly decrease, and soon the last vestige of Christianity would disappear. The books containing its defence would be forgotten, and the Bible soon cease to be read with interest'or gratitude.. If the Sabbath be abohshed, what hold can Christianity have on man? What way of access can it have to the heart and conscience? How shall the arguments for its truth be brought before the mind? How shall its moral precepts be urged? How shall its high hopes, and its solemn appeals and sanctions be presented? And how shall its stern rebukes be made to fall on the ears of the guilty? If you close your churches, and your Sabbath-schools, there is no other effectual way. Nothing can be plainer than this; and nothing can be more manifest than that he who violates, or disregards the Sabbath, is taking the most effectual means for obliterating the Christian religion from the world.
The whole history of Christianity shows that where the Sabbath is observed religion flourishes; where it is not, religion dies away and becomes extinct. We might appeal here to any man's observation, and ask him to recall the memory of a place where there is no Sabbath, and the scenes which' he witnessed there. Was the voice of prayer heard there? Was God feared and honored? Were children and youth trained in the ways of religion, and taught to worship and honor their Maker? Did meekness, and temperance, and chastity, and justice, and honesty abound? Or was the place distinguished for riot and disorder; for falsehood and profaneness; for intemperance and licentiousness; for indolence and brutal scenes of violence and strife? Was there ever a place in which the Sabbath began to be observed in which there did not revive the love of truth, and order; industry and intelligence; urbanity and benevolence; temperance, purity, and the love of God—like streams breaking out in the desert, and like the lily and the rose springing up in waste and sandy places! Has there ever been an instance where this day has been observed, that it has not been followed by the blessings which industry, and temperance, and intelligence, and piety carry in their train? This appeal is made with the utmost confidence; and the friends and foes of Christianity are invited to examine the point at their leisure.
Well do the enemies of Christianity in these times, know what they are about. In former generations, attempts were made to destroy the gospel by the sword and the faggot;—but all such attempts were foiled. Imperial power attempted to crush it; but imperial power found its arm too weak to contend with God. Argument and sophistry were then employed; ridicule lent its aid, and contempt pointed the finger of scorn; but all was in vain. Christianity survived all these, and rose with augmented power and more resplendent beauty—and Would do so to the end of time. But there is one weapon which the enemy has employed to destroy Christianity, and to drive it from the world, which has never been employed but with signal success. It is the- attempt to corrupt the Christian Sabbath; to. make1 it a day of festivity; to cause Christians to feel that its sacred and rigid obligation has ceased; to induce them on that day to mingle in the scenes of pleasure, or the exciting plans of ambition ;—, to make them feel that they may pursue their journeys by land and water—by the steam boat and the car regardless of the command of God; and this has done, and will continue to do, what no argument, no sophistry, no imperial power has been able to accomplish. The "Book of Sports" did more to destroy Christianity than all the ten persecutions of the Roman emperors; and the views of the second Charles and his court about the Lord's day, tended more to drive religion from the British nation than all the fires that were enkindled by Mary. Paris has no Sabbath, and that fact has done more to banish Christianity than all the writing of Voltaire; and Vienna has no Sabbath, and that fact does more to annihilate religion there than ever did the scepticism of Frederick. Turn the Sabbath into a day of sports and pastime; of military reviews, and of pantomimes and theatrical exhibitions, and not an infidel any where would care a farthing about the tomes of Volney or Voltaire; about the scepticism of Hume, the sneers of Gibbon, or the scurrility of Paine.
The great enemy of God and liberty, in. this western world, understands how to meet Christianity here. He knows that it will not be possible to kindle the flames of persecution. He knows that the friends of Christ cannot be turned over by the sentence of the Inquisition to the tender mercies of the civil arm. He knows that he cannot get up an auto-de-fe, and that the garden of the capitol cannot be illuminated by the burning bodies of the saints. He knows too that there is too much science and learning; that there are too many schools and colleges, to attempt to attack it by sophistry and argument. It has passed through too many such trials, and has come out of them all unscathed. But was there ho.new form of opposition by which religion could be met in the new world; no vital part of Christianity that could be reached: no blow that could be struck that would wither its rising power, and lay it prostrate in the dust? There was one experiment that could be made. Over these broad and ample states and territories men might be sent in search of gain, regardless of the Sabbath. Our majestic streams —winding along for thousands of miles through the richest lands on earth—might be ascended regardless of the sacredness of the day. Young men might be led away, by the hope of wealth, from the peaceful scenes where a Sabbath sheds repose on a village, or the Sabbath bell summons an entire population to worship God. • The nation might be roilsed by the love of gold; and new facilities for intercourse, and the love of travel might unsettle almost the whole population, and transform them into wandering tribes or families, and lead them to trample down the barriers of virtue, and the institutions of religion. The experiment was one of vast moment, and as fearful in its results as it was vast. . It involves the Whole interest of this nation. Its result will settle the fate of Christianity in this land, and perhaps throughout the world. If we can have.a Sabbath, sacred in its stillness and its associations; maintained by a healthful popular sentiment rathei than by human laws; revered as a day of holy rest, and as a type of heaven; a day when men shall delight to come together to worship God, and not a day of pastime, Christianity is safe in this land, and our country is safe. If not, the Sabbath, and religion, and liberty will die together.
In the experiment going on in this land not few hands are engaged but many. It is not the mere work of thoughtlessness and recklessness, but it has all the marks of purpose and of plan. It has evidence of being under the control of that master mind that is the author of all evil, and the father of all the embarrassments that Christianity has ever met with. The attempt to blot out the Sabbath from this land evinces more knowledge of human nature, and more tact and skill than the persecutions of the Roman emperors or of Mary. For who is engaged in the work of blotting out the Sabbath? Every atheist is engaged in it, and' here places his main hope of success. Every sceptic is engaged in it, and anticipates more from this than from all his arguments. Every profane man, and every intemperate man, and every licentious man is engaged in it, for in this way they hope that all restraint will be removed from unlimited indulgence in vice. And a multitude of men who are not professedly atheists or infidels, but whose heart is with them in their leading purposes, unite with them in opposing the sacredness of this day. In one word, the mass of busy, active, unprincipled, infidel mind in this nation, in high life and low, in office and out of office, in city and country, that for various reasons would desire Christianity to be extinguished, has made war on the Sabbath, and is prosecuting that war by all the means within its reach, and, it is to be feared, with augmenting prospects of success.
The question now is just this. Is Christianity worth preserving, or can we afford to see it driven from the land? Are we so secure without it in our individual and national interests, that we can part with it without regret; or is it with an effort to save it? Has Christianity such a connection with pure and wholesome morals as to make it desirable to retain it in the commonwealth, or will our morals be equally pure without it? Can this great nation be governed and defended without a God, or will it be best to yield obedience to his laws, and retain the religion of "peace and good will toward men" among us, and transmit it to posterity? These are questions connected with the Sabbath; and the course which is pursued in regard to this day will settle them all.
II. The second reason why this subject demands now the special attention of Christians is, that if the Sabbath is not regarded as holy time, it will be regarded as pastime; if not a day sacred to devotion, it will be a day of recreation, of pleasure, of licentiousness. The Sabbath is not essentially an arbitrary appointment, for it is required in the very nature of the animal economy that there should be periodical seasons of relaxation. Nature cannot always be taxed ta incessant effort. We must have periodical rest in all the functions of our nature. Bonaparte once passed three entire days and nights without sleep, but he could no longer contend against a great law of nature, and sank to sleep on his horse. There is not a muscle in the animal economy that does not demand rest after effort, and that will not have it. If it is not granted voluntarily, it will be taken. If the powers of nature are overworked, they will take relaxation by disease, and perhaps when too late to repair their exhausted energies. This great law of nature must and will be obeyed. If the frame is worn out and exhausted without this relaxation, the consequence must be sickness, or rest in the grave. The late Mr. Wilberforce declared that at one period of his parliamentary career, his duties were so multiplied and exhausting that his health must have been utterly prostrated,, but for the seasonable relief which the Sabbath afforded him. There is not an animal that can endure unceasing effort without -repose; and God, in requiring that the "cattle" should be allowed to rest on the Sabbath, has spoken according to the laws which he originally impressed on the brute creation. If the question were simply one of interest, and a man wished to make the most of the noble horse or the patient ox, he would allow him to rest according to the commandment. For every such day of periodical repose he will receive more than an equivalent in augmented strength and length of days. If rest is not allowed them, their powers are exhausted, and they expire. The universe is fitted up, as far as we know, for the purposes of alternate action and rest, from the first beating of the heart in infancy to the mightiest effort of the mature man; from the insect that nutters and dies, to the lion of the forest, the mighty elephant, and the monarch on the throne.
In demanding, therefore, that the animal and mental economy should be allowed a day of periodical repose, God has acted in accordance with a great law of nature. There is nothing arbitrary, except in designating the particular day which shall be observed; and all that is arbitrary in this is a consultation of convenience, that we may not be disturbed by the toil and action of another while we seek repose—just as he has so ordained the animal functions that all are disposed to sleep at night.
Further, all nations have had, and will have periodical seasonsof relaxation from the severity of toil. .The Jews had their weekly Sabbath; the Greeks and Romans had numerous festivals in honor of their gods, and many a day in -the year for riot and disorder; the followers of Mohammed observe a weekly Sabbath; the heathen nations observe numerous festivals frequently occurring; and even the actors in the French .revolution were constrained to bow to this great law of nature, and appointed one day in ten as a day of relaxation from toil. Hesiod and Homer said, "The seventh day is holy." Josephus says, "There is no city, however barbarous, where the custom of observing the seventh day which prevails among the Jews is not observed." Eusebius says," Almost all the philosophers and the poets acknowledge the seventh day as holy."* - Whatever may be the time selected, whether a day .in honor of an idol, or in honor of the Saviour; whether one day in seven, or one day in ten; whether it. be in honor of a saint, a hero, or the birth-day of a prince or of a nation, such days will be observed. In our country it. is settled that this day of periodical rest is to be the first day of the week. This is settled by custom; by the statutes of the land; by the practices in courts and legislatures; by universal understanding among farmers and mechanics; by the established laws and habits in our colleges and schools, between the master and the slave, and among neighbors every where. No one expects to find his neighbor at work on the Sabbath; and should even a master attempt to enforce labor on the Sabbath, he would go against the moral sense of the nation, and against the settled customs of the land. This custom is settled, moreover, by the belief of the religious portion of the nation that this is holy time, and by the lingerings of conscience among those who have been trained in the ways of religion. It is to be the settled custom in this nation that on this day toil is to cease, and men are to give themselves to other purposes than the ordinary employments of life. As a general habit all over the land, our stores and counting-houses will be shut; our schools will be disbanded; our courts and public offices will be closed; our banks and insurance offices will cease to do business; our mechanics will lay aside the saw and the hammer ; the student will close his books, the farmer will leave his plow in the furrow, the woodman will lay down his axe, the apprentice will be at liberty, and the slave will feel that he has a little time that in some proper sense is his own. The day is to be a day of relaxation and rest. It is either to be devoted to religion, or to such pastimes as the general public sentiment shall demand.
* Grotius de Vcritate. Lib. 1. see. xvi.
Since this is to be so, the question is, what is to be the effect if the day ceases to be a day of religious observance? What will be the effect of releasing a population of several millions one-seventh part of the time from any settled business of life? What will be the result if they are brought under no religious instruction? What will be the effect on morals; on religion; on sober habits of industry; on virtue, happiness, and patriotism? Can we safely close our places of business, and annihilate all the restraints that bind us during the six days; can we turn out a vast population of the young with nothing to do, and abide the consequences of such a universal exposure to vice? Can we safely dismiss our young men, all over the land, with sentiments unsettled, and with habits of virtue unformed, and throw them one day in seven upon the world with nothing to do? Can we safely release our sons, and our apprentices, and our clerks from our employ; and send them forth under the influence of unchecked youthful passion? Can we safely open, as we do, fountains of poison at every corner of the street, and in every village and hamlet, and invite the young to drink there with impunity .'' Can there be a season of universal relaxation, occurring fifty-two times in a year, when all restraints are withdrawn, and when the power of temptation shall be plied with all that art and skill can do to lead the hosts in the way to ruin, and to drag them down to hell?
One would suppose that the experiment which has already been made in cities of our land, would be sufficient to remove all doubt-from every reasonable mind on this subject. We are making the experiment on a large scale every Sabbath. Extensively in our large cities and their vicinities, this is a day of dissipation, of riot, of licentiousness, and of blasphemy. It is probable that more is done to unsettle the habits of virtue, and soberness, and industry; to propagate infidelity, and to lay the foundation for future repentance or ignominy; to retard the progress of the temperance reformation, and to prepare candidates for the penitentiary and the gallows on this day than on all the other days of the week. So it always is where institutions designed for good are abused. They become as powerful in evil as they were intended to be for good. The Sabbath is an institution of tremendous power for good or evil. If for good, as it is designed, and as it easily may be, it is laid at the foundation of all our peace, our intelligence, our morals, our religion. If for evil, it strikes at all these; nor is there any possible power in laws or in education that can, during the six days, counteract the evils of a Sabbath given to licentiousness and sin. And the question before the nation is not, whether this is to be a day of labor and sober industry, for that is settled, but whether it is to be a day of religion or licentiousness; a day of virtue or of sin; a day for God, or a day for the devil. It is, whether the nation can afford to have one day in seven a day of riot and disorder—a saturnalia, occurring more than fifty times in the year, when Rome, in the most palmy days of. her virtue, could scarcely survive the effects of one. No graver question can come before the nation than this. Let any one ask himself what would be the effect of having a day kept as the anniversary of our independence has usually been, occurring more than fifty times in the year—a day of riot and drunkenness—and he can be at no loss what answer is to be given to such a question.
Further, the Sabbath is favorable to the spread of pure morality, and the most pure and elevated virtues are found in those communities that observe it-as a day of holy rest. This assertion is made with the utmost confidence, and you are invited to test the truth of it as often as you please. Go through the country and examine the cities, the towns, and the villages; mingle with the inhabitants of every class, and converse with them freely; learn their opinions and their habits; examine their prisons and their almshouses, and then tell me where you find most industry, most sober habits, most contentment, most sobriety, most intelligence, most freedom from low and debasing vices. Tell me in what place you would prefer to place a son, or where you would wish a daughter to be educated? Is there here a parent who would hesitate for one moment in regard to this? The virtues which go to adorn domestic intercourse, and to cement society; the mild and gentle charities that are connected with the fireside, with the sick-room, and the bed of death, flourish pre-eminently among those who love the sound of the Sabbath-bell. Can you point me to one idle and dissolute family; to one disturber of the peace; to one vicious neighborhood; to one community in which licentiousness reigns, where the Sabbath is habitually and generally observed? And can you point me to one community where it is not observed, which does not become riotous and vicious, and where intemperance, and gambling, and licentiousness, do not sooner or later abound? Sir Matthew Hale says, "That of all the persons convicted of capital crimes while he was on the bench, there were few who were not ready to confess that they had begun their career of wickedness by a neglect of the duties of the Sabbath."
Now if the Sabbath be abolished, it will become a day of immorality. In particular, I wish to say, that this remark specially concerns young men. I do believe that if I could collect around me all the young men of this land, and if I could get their ear for a little time, I could convince the mass of them that the only security for their correct moral character, and their future usefulness-, success, and happiness, will be connected with the proper observance of this day. I could show them, to their perfect satisfaction, that the temptations which are spread out to beguile the unwary,are designed by cunning, unprincipled, and avaricious men for them. I could satisfy them that when they go forth from their father's dwellings, and from the sanctuary this day, under the influence of strong desires for pleasure and amusement, they are exposed to temptations where no young man is safe, and that beyond the eye of a father and a mother they may be hurried on to excesses which they would have been shocked to have anticipated. For be it remembered that no young man leaves his father's dwelling, and devotes this day to amusement and revelry, without flying in the face of an explicit command of the Most High. He tramples beneath his feet one of the solemn mandates that were given amidst flames and thunders on Mount Sinai—and when one command of God is basely and contemptuously trod beneath his feet the other nine will soon cease to be regarded. Be it remembered too, that the laws which God has ordained tend only to promote human virtue and happiness. Go to the penitentiary, and walk along from cell to cell, and enquire of the inmates when their career of guilt commenced. Go and converse in his sober moments with the drunkard, and ask him when he first trod that downward way, and the answer would be, in a majority of cases, on the Sabbath-day. I venture here a remark—though with not entire certainty of its correctness. It is, that in this country more young men commence the habits of drinking on the Sabbath than on any other day in the week. They are at leisure. They band together. They fill up the long lines of packed vehicles that on that day lead out of our cities in every direction. At the end of each one of those brief journies, and at as many places on the way as they can be induced to pause at, a kind and indulgent public has placed a dram shop, under the name of a tavern, and the Sabbath is their harvest-time, and were it not for the Sabbath they could not be sustained a month. There, many a young man in thoughtlessness commences a career which terminates in breaking a mother's heart, and in the early wreck of all the hopes of a family, and in the extinction of their peace as they weep over a drunkard's grave.
III. A third reason why this subject demands the attention of Christians in a special manner now is, that there is a state of things in this land that is tending to obliterate the Sabbath altogether.
The events to which I refer are too well known to make it necessary to dwell particularly on them. Jn every direction the mail is carried, and the example of the violation of the day is thus set by national authority. Every post-office is required by law to be kept open, and a public invitation is thus given to obtain the political and commercial intelligence, and to divert the mind from the sacred duties of the day by the reference to the cares of this life. Some years since the voice of respectful entreaty and petition was addressed to the National Legislature by some thousands of the best citizens in the land; —and the sacred right of petition was met with contempt and sarcasm. In every part of our land, also, the facilities for intercommunication have been augmented to an extent that excites the surprise of the world. By canals and rail-roads distant portions of our country have been brought together, and the land trembles as the car of commerce rolls on, and the long lines of majestic improvements are crowded with the results of our toil, and with a travelling community. Against these national improvements, assuredly, the language of complaint is not to be urged. In many respects they are the glory of our land; and they should be sources of gratitude to God who has thus signally blessed our country. But can any one be ignorant that each canal and jail-road furnishes increased facility for Sabbath-violation, and that they are fast tending to blot it from the land? Where in these public conveyances is the Sabbath regarded? Where is the railroad car that is arrested by the return of this day? Is it not known that these vehicles, and particularly in the neighborhood of our cities, are crowded with a denser throng on this day than on any other day in the seven? Had it been the purpose of the people of this land to abolish the Sabbath altogether, and to furnish the most rapid and extended means of its entire obliteration, it would have oeen impossible to have devised a more certain and effectual way than that which is now employed. In the mean time there is an augmenting desire for motion in this land. The population is becoming migratory; and few pause—whether Christians or not—to rest on the Sabbath. The merchant hastens on his way to the commercial emporium—as if the saving of a day for worldly business were of more value than the observance of the laws of God; the legislator pursues his journey to the capitol—as if anxious to exhibit a specimen of breaking the laws of God while he goes to make laws for man ;—the party of pleasure urge on their way to a watering-place—determined to annihilate time and space, as if the affairs of the world depended on their being there an hour earlier; our sons in. the distant west are travelling at the same time beyond the sound of the Sabbathbell, and the memory of the sanctuary to which it once called them—as if it were a virtue to forget all the sacred scenes where the calm light of a Sabbath-morning visited their souls; and the idle, the dissipated, the profane, the atheist, the Christian, the clergyman, in these public vehicles, pursue the business of gain, or pleasure, or convenience, or ambition—as if there were special merit in forgetting all the usual distinctions of society, and each and all were showing how they can most effectually disregard the obligations of this day. For one man in the community at large who will conscientiously stop on his journey to keep holy the Sabbath-day, there are probably ten who will be at special pains to violate it, either by commencing a journey on that day, or by making it the occasion of an excursion of pleasure. In the high places of the land too there is an increasing laxness of principle on this subject. During the times that tried men's souls in the war of Independence, our fathers would have been alarmed- had the ordinary business of legislation been pursued on the Sabbath, and the voice of indignant remonstrance would have been heard throughout the land. Yet nothing has been more common of late years than for the National Legislature, after wasting months in needless and profitless debate, to close their labors on the Sabbath—and amidst such scenes of disorder as to be a disgrace to themselves and the nation on any day.—
It is not easy for men in any situation to cast off respect for the laws of God and at the same time maintain a character for sober virtue and order; and in legislatures as elsewhere a disregard for God's laws is but the beginning of evil. Yet the nation has not been alarmed. A few feeble voices from the press have been heard, but they have died away; and the nation seems resolved to acquiesce in the insult put upon the religious sentiments of the great body of the people of the land, and in the disregard of the nation in its highest functions for the Sabbath of the Lord.
I will close by repeating a remark already made. It is this. The warfare which Christianity is to wage in this land is here. The opposition to religion is here. The Sabbath has more enemies in this land than the Lord's Supper; than baptism; than the Bible ; than all the other institutions of religion put together. At the same time it is more difficult to meet the enemy here than any where else—for we come in conflict not with argument —but with interest, and pleasure, and the love of indulgence, and of gain. The conflict is to rage here. The wish of the atheist, the infidel, the man of vice, is to blot out the Sabbath. The attempt will not be made here to destroy Christianity by persecution, for that has been often tried, and has always failed. It. is to see whether the Sabbath can be obliterated from the memory of man; and if it can be done it will be done. If this day, with its sacred institutions, can be blotted out, the victory will be won. Infidelity will achieve what the faggot and the stake, the force of argument and the caustic severity of sarcasm and ridicule have never been able to accomplish. And it is just now a question for the good people of this land to determine for themselves whether they shall abandon the day, or make an effort to save it; whether the virtuous and the pious shall yield the victory without a struggle, or whether they shall combine their efforts, and address the reason and conscience of their fellow-citizens and speak to them of our hallowed institutions, and of the rapid corruption.of the public morals; whether they shall remind them of what the Sabbath has done for us in better times, and attempt to bring back the nation to the observance of an institution that would diffuse intelligence, and soberness, and industry, and salvation alLover the land; or whether disheartened by the difficulties in the case, and overpowered by numbers, they shall give it up in despair. On the position which each individual takes on these questions, more may depend than on any other single step in his life; on his course in regard to the Sabbath will depend much of the peace or the sorrow of the bed of death.