The New Zealand Evangelist
Prize Essays On The Sabbath
Prize Essays On The Sabbath.
“Ex pede Herculem.”—“You may judge of the statue of Hercules from the foot,” said the ancients. Of the one hundred of the Working Men's Prize Essays on the Sabbath that have been, or are to be published, only two have fallen into our hands. But if they are a fair specimen of the whole, we question if there is much exaggeration in what we have seen stated somewhere about them, that the united wisdom of the House of Commons could not have produced a hundred such Essays on the temporal advantages of the Sabbath, as have been written by these plain, common sense Working Men.
These are two of the Essays that obtained each one of the five five-pound prizes given by the Religions Tract Society, on this subject. The one is written by a Frame Knitter; the other by a Porter, formerly a Gardener. The former looks at the Sabbath more in the light of a political economist, one who is conversant with the realities of life. The latter more with the eye of a poet, one who from his occupation has had his mind full of the beauties of nature. We subjoin a few extracts from each.
The Frame Knitter says—
It is a pleasing sign of the times, that the attention and sympathies of the wisest and best of men have at length become directed to the best means of bettering the temporal condition of their less fortunate brethren. To elevate the masses of the community, and to raise them in the scale of civil and religious society, has become a subject of earnest inquiry. The statesman, the philosopher, and the divine, are seeking out the best means for the attainment of so desirable an object. The pulpit, the press, and the forum, are more or less engaged in the same philanthropic cause. The bard who so lately sung the “Lay of the Labourer,” and the “Song of the Shirt,” became the subject of royal favour; and advocating the rights and the interests of the working classes has engaged the wit of the age.page 370
Another animating characteristic is, that the labourers themselves are consulted upon these important matters. They are invited to tell their own tale, to chronicle their own wrongs, and to point out the most practicable means for their future well-being and improvement. Surely these are tokens for good, and are the heralds of a better and a brighter day that is beginning to dawn, and should inspire the minds of the care-worn sons of toil with confidence and hope. Such are the “signs of the times,” and they demonstrate that some very powerful principle is at work in the mind of the Christian public. And that principle is none other than the love of Christ, which is influencing directly, and very often indirectly, the state of society, and is bringing about a great moral reformation.
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The blessings of education are secored to the labouring classes more by observing the sabbath-day and keeping it holy than by and other means.
The voice of inspiration has declared, “That the soul be without knowledge, it is not good.” To estimate the benefits that a sound religions and moral education confers upon its possessor is impossible. Much as wealth is prized, that is not equal to this. Men of substance will sacrifice their money by hundreds, yea by thousands, that their families may receive a good education, well knowing that, should they accumulate millions, they will be regarded as nothing without it. Poverty of mind is more to be deplored than indigence of circumstances. That man is far poorer who has a full purse, a hard heart, and an empty head, than he who has a mind stored with useful knowledge, and is destitute of a shilling, Much as education is prized by the middle and upper classes, it is of far greater importance to the labouring classes. Those who have rents or annuities to live upon may manage to get through this life in a way that the world calls respectable. But what is the working man to do if he cannot assist himself by the exercise of his brains? How is a man to perform his part upon the theatre of life, and perform it well, if his mind be not expanded and his understanding be not well informed? We must see how others are discharging their duties if we would perform ours aright. Education can draw resources from sterility, safety from danger, and a remedy from poison.
The sabbath-day has provided a means and afforded a time for improvement. Immortal honours to the name of Raikes, by whose instrumentality the portals leading to the temple of knowledge are unfolded so wide that nations abreast may go in. The good be stowed upon the labouring classes by the adoption of Sunday schools eternity can alone unfold. Were it not for them, the writer of this essay must have remained in a state of mental destitution, as his fore-fathers were; for they have been the only means of instruction that were ever afforded him. There are tens of thousands more of the children of the poor that can bear the same testimony. The labouring classes need not remain in a state of ignorance if they only will it to be otherwise. Only let them keep holy the sabbath-day, and make an effort themselves, and every page 371 obstacle will sooner or later vanish. It is a race in which all may enter. This privilege was denied the ancients; none but the higher classes were allowed to become competitors in the Olympic games; but in this race there are none that can be refused. Education is not only an inestimable blessing to gain, but it never can be lost. Once seeured, and it is yours for life, with power to entail it upon your successors, free of legacy-duty, or the expense of an administration, and to their heirs for ever.
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The different nations in the world who have done the most honour to the day of rest have been the most prosperons. Where God has been the most honoured the people have been the most happy. The first of these is the state of New England in America. In the year 1621, the pilgrim fathers landed at New Plymouth. They began their holy career by acknowledging God, and by keeping holy the sabbath-day; and hitherto the Lord has prospered them. From the most authentic sources, we gather that the style of living among all classes is full and liberal; that a fair distribution of social comfort abounds everywhere. From “Ferguson's Travels “we gather the most important facts. That writer says, “I observed in public and in private a decent observance of the sabbath. The official papers, the organs of the government, uniformly recognise the superintending and beneficent God. No shops are to be seen open on the saored day of rest.” In the New England states, and in those alone, is a due provision made for the education of the children of the labouring classes and for the religious instruction of the people. The means of instruction which are provided in general are such as to put the knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic, within the reach of all. The respectable appearance of the working classes upon the day of rest is unequalled. The factory operatives of Lowell and other places resemble, in their appearance, people of independent in comes. Five thousand industrious females joined in one procession at Boston a few years ago, at the time of the president's visit, each bearing a parasol. Take the labouring classes of New England as a whole, they stand without a rival for intelligence, respectability, and literary attainments and piety, of any people in the world. “Almost all the books that have issued from the American press have been written by men or women who have been engaged in some laborious or professional employment. These works have not been written under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst the busy scenes of life.” But from whence comes so much respectability, learning, and power? They keep holy the sabbath day. This explains the mystery.
We begin with France—disturbed, unhappy France—the only nation in the world that ever had the daring impiety to blot out the sabbath-day of rest by public proclamation, The social condition of the peasantry of France is thus described by M. Michelet:—“Watch him before day-light: you find him at work with all his family, and even his wife, scarcely out of her confinement, creeping along the dim earth. At noon, when the rocks split with beat, when the planter's negro takes repose, the volunteer negro page 372 gets none. In passing you salute him cordially; he will not see you, but slouches his hat. Do not ask him the way; if he answer you he may, perhaps, make you turn your back upon the place where you are going to. Thus the peasant becomes more and more bitter and retiring. His heart is too much oppressed to open it to any generous sentiment of benevolence; he hates the rich, his neighbour, and the world. Alone he becomes a savage. It is insociability proceeding from his misery which renders it irremediable; it prevents him from being on a kind and friendly footing with those who should be his associates and his friends. The peasant is malicious, spiteful, and capable of any enorimity; it is not safe to be his neighbour.” The rueful and melancholy condition of the weavers of Lyons, the artisans of Paris and Milan, etc., are too well known to need recording here. France may discard her monarchs and burn her thrones; but until she learns wisdom from above by keeping holy the sabbath-day, she never can be happy. The foundation is wanting upon which the superstructure of domestic happiness, speace, and comfort must be built.
Let us not be deceived by the plea of necessity which puts in its imperative claims for the violation of the day of rest. Let us examine the subject ourselves, and test the merits of this vaunted necessity. Nothing is necessary that can be done at any other time by any lawful means; let us bear this in mind, and we shall find that the works of necessity are but few. The employment of labour upon public works is not necessary, such as the making of railways, the building of bridges, etc. This kind of labour has lately been forbidden in India, to the great credit of Lord Hardinge. Gardening operations and the cultivation of allotment lands are not necessary upon the sabbath day; this will never do the labouring classes any good. Sunday baking and Sunday shaving-shops cannot claim the plea of necessity. Sunday travelling, merely for the sake of pleasure, will even defeat its own ends; it will not bear reflecting upon with pleasure.
The question which naturally arises out of this subject, and which has the greatest claim upon the attention of the working classes, is, What can be done by them to secure the benefits of this day of rest?
The historian remarks that at the battle of Agincourt every man fought as though the success of the day depended upon his own exertion. Now what can we do? The cause is ours, the work is ours. We can each do something ourselves; we can do much in our families; we might do more in our localities. But what might we not do by union?
The Gardener says—
There are some blessings so extensive is their nature, so well adapted to their ends, so equal in their effects, and so unceasing in their operations, in short, so common, that we almost cease to notice them at all, or to think upon them as bleasings. Of this character are the ceaseless streams of light and warmth which flow from the inexhaustible sun;—the dews which steal upon the page 373 sleep of the young buds, softer than a mother's footfall on the rest of her child;—the rains which descend and give vigour, freshness, and beauty to the earth, and make every parched leaf of the old trees sing gratefully and joyously, like a congregation in whose hearts there are joy and hope;—the deep gushing fountains and rivers of bright, tasteless, and colourless water; the pure, fresh, unperfumed sweetness of the transparent air;—and innumerable other blessings, which none can reckon, save He who created them. As extensive in its nature—as well adapted to its beneficent par pose—as equal in its eflects—and as common to all who will accept of it, is the sabbath, the seventh day of rest, the holiday of man and beast.* * * *
The sabbath causes a cessation of the mercenary thoughts connected with toil.
I once rather rudely spoke to a poor Jew upon this subject, and received a reply full of instruction, a spark of that old-world, Asiatic wisdom before which the boasted wisdom of our ancestors “pales its ineffectual fires.” “Why,” I asked, “do you Jews, living here in the midst of the haunts of crime and infamy, and profiting by them, keep your sabbath with such scrupulous strictness, and what good does it do you in a moral point of view?” He replied, “Why do we keep it? Because God has commanded it; is not that a reason? You a Christian and read the Bible, and yet ask why a Jew keeps his sabbath! What good does it do us? Ah! badly as you think of us, we should be a thousand times worse without our sabbath. Ages ago we should have been a lost nation of idolaters, or savages, or beasts. Our great vice is the love of gain, but the sabbath makes us forget it for a time. Look at our sabbath breakers, look at yours; are they not the vilest of both peoples?”* * * *
The cares and anxieties which attend all kinds of Toil in some degree, cease to a considerable extent on the sabbath
“Why do you live so far from the docks where you labour?” I asked one day of a friend. “Because,” answered he, “the distance helps me to forget that there are such things as docks in the world, with all their attendant toils, anxieties, and cares. By the time I have passed such a spot, the docks are out of sight, and nearly one of mind, and I look forward to the pleasures of home, and the feast of books, and feel that though a labourer, I am also a man, Once a day I forget the scene of toil; and on the sabbath, not a shadow of it remains to cloud its pleasures or its rest. The distance, and difference of scene help me in this, and I go to work again when the time comes, like a giant refreshed.” This kind of feeling is shared by the most intelligent portion of the working classes, and proves at once the value of the sacred day which helps to exclude the thoughts of toil from our minds.
The sabbath is absolutely necessary to health, and conduces to long life.
I was once struck with the remarkable change which had taken place in a few short weeks in the condition and appearance of a page 374 horse; I inquired the reason. “Why,” said the driver, “he works long hours, Sundays and all, and that will kill any horse in the world.”
Dr. Conquest, in a recent letter to the churchwardens of St. Luke's, speaks thus:—
“I regret my inability to be at the vestry this evening. Had it been in my power to be there, I should have endeavoured to prove as a medical man, that it is absolutely necessary for the human constitution to have one day in seven for rest, because without it, its powers become enfeebled and impaired.” Again in the same letter, “Daily exertion, and excitement and fatigue during the week, without this one day's rest, prematurely breaks down the strength and vigour of the animal system, shortens life, and deprives old age of that energy and cheerfulness which usually attend it in those who have rested from mental and bodily toil on the Lord's-day.”
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It promotes domestic happiness.
We often hear expressions, whith we do not notice at the time, and which are soon forgotten, but which afterwards recur again with all their force and meaning. Such are the following in rela-to this subject.
“Mother,” said a child, “you seem so happy always on Sunday, I wish it were Sunday every day.”
“You are always better on Sunday when father's at home,” said a little girl to her sick mother.
“Oh, we are so uncomfortable to day, it don't seem like Sunday,” I once heard a child remark, evidently giving utterance to the sentiments and feelings of a numerous family of disconcerted children. “Why not, my child?” asked the mother, though she knew well enough why, and felt as the children felt. “Because,” answered the child in a tone of discontent, “father has been at work all day, and has not cleaned himself.”
Standing near a group of children one day, I heard something like the following. “Don't the sun always shine brighter on a Sunday?” “No,” replied an older girl, “it sometimes rains the whole day.” “Well then,” rejoined the first, “it is not such a nasty wet rain as on other days.” Upon this, the group discussed the matter, and the young hearts carried it by a large majority, first, that the sun did shine brighter on Sundays, and secondly that if it did sometimes rain on that day, it was not such a nasty wet rain as on other days. We may smile at the children, but I suspect there was more real philosophy in the matter than appears at first sight. All these things may seem trifles, but they tend to show the beneficial influence of the sabbath on domestic happiness, and more especially on the happiness of the wives and children of the working classes.
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The rest peculiar to the sabbath enables the working man to return to his labcur with willlngness, renewed strength, industry, and skill.
I once knew a quiet, respectable old man, the sum total of whose philosophy apparently consisted in one single axiom, which he page 375 invariably uttered with the utmost gravity when he saw younger men over-exerting themselves, working over-time, night-time, or Sunday-time, “Take my word for it, a pennyworth of ease is always worth the penny.” And in the main the old man was in the right.
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The sabbath is the best and most efficient means of establishing morality on a basis of religion, and the means of upholding religion itself.
National morality is of the utmost importance to the well-being of the people, but more especially to the labouring classes, because in a low state of morality, as well as in all other national calamities, they are the first and greatest sufferers. But morality has no basis without a pure religion. It is true, we meet with many beautiful precepts of morality in the writings of the heathen sages, but for anything like a practical application of them by the people of those times we may look in vain. They seem to have been like Goldsmith's cracked china, “wisely kept for show,” or like a certain notable housewife's bright pot lids, they still kept their places on the wall, and made a goodly appearance, but the useful part of them, the saucepans, had perished years ago. So it was with most of the ancient precepts of morality, they were so many cracked vessels or odd pot lids; the sages arranged them in rows or polished them up, but they performed no useful office in society, they were lifeless because of a corrupt and false religion.
Many of the best and noblest characteristics of the English labouring classes owe, if not their birth, at least their confirmation, to the time of the Puritans, when the sabbath was best kept. There were no sabbaths in England before that time, or rather they were profaned by the vilest ribaldry, jest, obscenity, cruelty to beasts, and brutality of every description. The inextinguishable love of liberty, the contempt of Priestcraft, the hatred of tyrants, the freedom of thought, the indomitable courage, which springs not alone from mere animality, but from qualities of mind; the patience of labour, the endurance of suffering, and the untiring perseverance which belong to the English character,—were nurtured, expanded, and confirmed at that period; and there cannot be a doubt that the sabbath had a large share in the work, and assisted to stamp the impress of a great age on the characters of all succeeding generations.