Canterbury Sunday Obserbance League.
My subject assumes the duty of Sabbath observance. This is of universal and of perpetual obligation: but it is not for me now to prove it; nor am I to say bow the Sabbath should be observed; this will be modified by surrounding conditions. The true principle of Sabbath keeping is to be applied to the circumstances of Christians at the present day. Rest and religion are the objects of this institution. I join these, because without religion there can be no rest. We owe the Sabbath to religion, and it is by religion we retain it. But I do not discuss this aspect of the question. Our physical, moral, and social interests are bound up with it. The Canterbury Sunday Observance League seeks the protection of this day of rest. As the platform for Sabbath observance there must be rest from week-day toil and care—rest for the body; liberty for the mind. The busy hum of traffic must be hushed on "the first day of the week." It should not be a dull day. If anyone be more jubilant than another it is the Sunday, for "this is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it." Our Saviour gave no sanction to austere practices. For the hungry to pluck the ears of corn—for the ass or the ox to be pulled out of the pit—for to do good to the bodies or the souls of men—are all lawful on the Sabbath day. It gives me great pleasure to say that in Canterbury the day is observed as well as in any place I know, and better than in most of them. The recent opening of the Museum I hold to be a mistake; and it is the object of this League to check further inroads of that sort. The line between a day of rest and religion, and one of drudgery and dissipation, is its sacredness. Destroy this; take page 2 the seventh of our time out of the one hand to which peer and peasant bow, and it will share the lot of all the rest. Man's right rests upon God's right. Let the working man know that but for religion, this day would not be his, but his master's. The moral and religious advantages will be the subject of a future address. I confine myself to the connection of Sabbath observance with temporal prosperity. I do not mean by this the simple grasp of wealth; the glare and glitter of imposing sights; the flaunting of showy garments, or the like: all this may be, as in ancient Rome, when a worm is gnawing at the heart of the public weal, and, in the delirium of a hollow joy, the people are rushing to a dismal doom. By temporal prosperity let us understand the well-being of a man, or of a people, as the outcome of those principles of conduct which produce health, diligence, and sobriety in the individual, in the family, and in the community.
1. The Individual.—Good health is the groundwork of all earthly comfort. This requires a regular rest from work, both of body and mind. The nocturnal sleep is not enough. Work your horse every day, without intermission, and soon you will have no horse to work. The late Sir Robert Peel used to say that he never knew a man to escape failure, in either mind or body, who worked seven days in a week. The Sabbath is God's sanitorium for the sons of toil. It sprinkles reviving dews on the brow of industry. Health is nourished not only by the rest it provides, but also by the habits of order, of cleanliness, and cheerfulness, which it forms. I am speaking of a Sabbath sacredly kept. Give the day to amusement, and the idea of a Sabbath is destroyed. Nothing is more fatiguing than the dissipations of pleasure. By the orgies of a Sunday holiday man is less fitted for a working Monday. But the Sabbath-rested man goes to his weekly labor with renewed energy. Physical benefits are often the prelude to moral blessings. Cleanliness leads the way to other virtues. But for the Sabbath millions would not change their clothes. Repose, meditation, converse—to say nothing of religious worship—brace up the powers for recurring tasks. "The savings bank of human existence is the weekly Sabbath." Compare the man who makes conscience of this day with him who gives it to money making, to pleasure taking, to sensual indulgences. You will find in the former what is lacking in the other—the best guarantee for success in life. His feet tread the earth, his brow fronts the sky. In the best sense of the words, he is heir to temporal prosperity.
Hail, Sabbath! thee I hail, the poor man's day.
The pale mechanic now has leave to breathe
The morning air, pure from the city's smoke;
While, wandering slowly up the river side,
He meditates on Him whose power he marks
In each green tree that proudly spreads the bough,
Or in the tiny dew-bent flowers that bloom
Around the roots; and while he thus surveys,
With elevated joy, each rural charm
He hopes (yet fears presumption in the hope)
To reach those realms where Sabbaths never end.
2. The Family.—God is the author of the family constitution, and the homes of men are the centres of nearly all the light and warmth of the social world. If you would find the highest degree of domestic felicity, seek it not in the halls of the great, but in the abodes, however lowly, where they "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." There it is "the pearl of days." But for this those who "in the sweat of the face eat bread" would have no time for the loving interchange of thought and feeling. To this large section of the "million" the Sunday clothes, the Sunday gathering, and the Sunday meal, when "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer," represent the idea of
Domestic bliss: the only paradise that hath survived the fall.
Here tempers are evoked which help largely in the formation of virtuous character. Take, for example, the charming picture drawn by the pen of a "Laborer's daughter" in the wilds of Scotland:—
"Our Sabbaths were our happiest days. We were near no place of public worship; not so near at least as to permit any of the children often to attend. As soon as we were dressed and had breakfasted, family prayer was attended to, and then our father would point out some hymn or passage of scripture which he wished us to learn, when we would sally forth, book in hand, in different directions; one to stretch himself upon the soft grass in the field close by, another to pace backward and forward on the pleasure walk or to find a seat in the bough of an old bushy tree. While another would seek a little summer-house our father had made of page 3 heather, and seated round with the twisted boughs of the glossy birch, each reading aloud, till the allotted lesson was thoroughly fixed upon the mind. If the day was wet, or if it was the winter season, we would gather around the table by the window. During the afternoon mother would read to us, or all of us, father and mother included, read by turns; questions were then asked, and conversation entered into about what we had been reading.
Happy parents and happy children,
The holy Sabbath thus to spend.
How blessed is the retrospect of such a day! Contrast it with another, alas, too common, where the Sunday is a day of mere animal pastime. Late sleep, late meals, late dressing; squallor in the house and tawdry show abroad. Is this a Sabbath? "There is no rest, saith my God to the wicked.' Who has not read and admired the beautiful poem of Burns on the "Cottar's Saturday Night," the eve before the Sabbath. Where the day is observed there will be happy anticipation of it, and timely preparation for it. That will not be left for the Sunday morning which, can be done on the Saturday evening. When the the six days' work are finished:—
The toil-worn cottar frae his labor goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end, Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend, And weary o'er the moor, his course doth homeward bend.
At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Wi' expectant wee things toddin, stacher thro'
To meet their dad, in flickerin' noise and glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin' bonnily,
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wife's smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a' his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
And makes him quite forget his labour and his toil.
The cheerful supper done, wi' serious face
They round the ingle form a circle wide.
The sire turns o'er with patriarchal grace, The big ha' Bible, ance his father's pride;
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside, His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare.
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And, "Let us worship God," he says, with solemn air.
From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs,
That makes her lov'd at home, rever'd abroad.
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings;
An honest man's the noblest work of God.
In this, our "Britain of the South," may the land enjoy her Sabbaths. I love to think of
The blessed homes of England,
How softly in their bowers
Is laid the holy quietness
That breathes from Sabbath hours.
Solemn, yet sweet, the church bells chime,
Floats through the woods at morn,
All other sounds, in that still time,
Of breeze and leaf are born.
3. The Community.—Show me a land of Sabbath-keeping homes and I will show you a people strong in the elements of national stability, growth, and greatness—a people sober, intelligent, and industrious; a people among whom peace and content, if not plenty, dwells. Between Sabbath observance and public morals there is a close bond. Even if there be excess, it is better on the side of severity than of laxity. History tells us that a puritanical Sunday is to be preferred to that of the "Book of Sports" on behalf of the general good. A God-fearing, a man-honoring, and a law-abiding people, must prosper. And our national character and glorious institutions will go down into the grave that entombs our Sabbaths. To say nothing of the blessing that cometh directly from the Lord of the Sabbath, a well kept Sunday must lead to a we'l ordered community. The late Dr Norman McLeod (who was not at all tight-laced on this question) said:—
"It is impossible to estimate the blessed effect produced upon a nation's health and happiness, when, on the return of each Sunday, millions are thus set free from toil; when the ledger is closed on the desk, when the hammer rests upon the anvil, and the wheel in the factory, when the mine sends forth its crowds into the light and glory of the new-born day, and when men can rest their wearied frames, or tread the green earth or hoary mountain, and breathe the fresh air, and look calmly upon the blue sky overhead, or listen to the sounding stream or beating sea wave; and when the very dumb cattle partake of the universal page 4 blessing, though as unconscious as many of their masters, of the loving hand which has bestowed it."
The striking contrast between a British Sabbath and a French Sunday is notorious. It will be a sad day for the grand Old Country we still call "Home, sweet home," if it copy the example of the latter. A Sabbathless nation in the face of an age of fierce competition, must be a nation without leisure for love or thought—a nation without rest and without homes. God save Great Britain from such a curse! For a Sunday holiday is as great a curse as the Sabbath is a blessing. The artizan returns from the carnival physically and morally unfitted for his daily work. But the frame of mind which a sacred observance of the day sustains is itself a valuable antidote to worldly griefs, while it enhances the value of all innocent pleasures. We cannot trifle with its sanctity but at our peril. Way land in his "Elements of Moral Science" says
"The violation of this duty by the young is one of the most decided marks of incipient moral degeneracy. Religious restraint is fast losing its hold of that young man who, having been trained in the fear of God, begins to spend his Sabbath in idleness or in amusement; and so also of communities. The desecration of the Sabbath is one of the most evident indications of that criminal recklessness, that insane love of pleasure, and that slavery to the passions, which forebodes the 'beginning of the end' of social happiness and of true national prosperity."
The testimony of Sir Matthew Hale is endorsed by the experience of his successors on the Judicial Bench, and in that of chaplains of gaols. It is this:—
"Of all persons who were convicted of capital crimes while he was on the bench, he found a few only who would not confess, on enquiry, that they began their career of wickedness by a neglect of the duties of the Sabbath."
It is a hackneyed saying that men are not to be made moral by Acts of Parliament. Granted. But on the other hand, all legislators are false to their trust who either by the enactment of laws, or by their own example, lessen in any way the reverence due to that day which God hath set apart for himself. Take away the moral influence of the Sabbath, and you loosen the bonds of society. But Sabbath-keeping, by the habits it induces, will imbue the mind with sound views of relative duties and build up mutual respect in the fear of God. Such a community will never be the congenial sphere for either demagogue or despot. The Sabbath is a test of moral bias. It does more, even now, than magistrates, prisons, and other legal terrors, to strengthen our civil, our social, and our religious privileges. Take away this barrier and you open the floodgates of vice and irreligion upon a godless people. But let it be "called a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable," then will "our sons be as plants grown up in their youth, and our daughters as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace—and there will be no complaining in our streets." Who will not say—"Happy is that people that is in such a case, yea, happy is that people whose God is the Lord?"
I will close with one of Mrs Hemans' sonnets. It was the last she composed, and it was on her last Sabbath upon earth, when lying on her death bed. Then she dictated these lines:—
How many blessed groups this hour are bending,
Through England's primrose meadow-paths their way
Towards spire and tower, midst shadowy elms ascending,
Whence the sweet chimes proclaim the hallow'd day!
The halls, from old heroic ages gray,
Pour their fair children forth, and hamlets low,
With whose thick orchard-bloom the soft winds play.
Send out their inmates in a happy flow,
Like a freed vernal stream. I may not tread
With them those pathways—to the feverish bed
Of sickness bound—yet, O my God! I bless
Thy mercy, that with Sabbath peace hath fill'd
My chasten'd heart, and all its throbbings still'd
To one deep calm of lowliest thankfulness.
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