J.C. Ryle, "Sabbath: A Day to Keep"
(1816-1900) was an ordained minister in the Church of England. After serving 39
years in the ministry, he became the first Bishop of Liverpool, a post he held
for twenty years. He was affectionately known as “the working man’s bishop.”
His writings include Holiness, The Upper Room, Practical
Religion, The Christian Race, and many others.
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.-
There is a subject in the
present day which demands the serious attention of all professing Christians in
the United Kingdom. That subject is the Christian Sabbath, or Lord's Day.
It is a subject which is
forced upon our notice. The minds of many are agitated by questions arising out
of it. "Is the observance of a Sabbath binding on Christians? Have we any
right to tell a man that to do his business or seek his pleasure on a Sunday is
a sin? Is it desirable to open places of public amusement on the Lord's Day?"
All these are questions that are continually asked. They are questions to which
we ought to be able to give a decided answer.
The subject is one on which
"divers and strange doctrines" abound. Statements are continually made about
Sunday, which plain unsophisticated readers of the Bible find it impossible to
reconcile with the Word of God. If these statements proceeded only from the
ignorant and irreligious part of the world, the defenders of the Sabbath would
have no reason to be surprised. But they may well wonder when they find educated
and religious persons among their adversaries. It is a melancholy truth that in
some quarters the Sabbath is wounded by those who ought to be its best friends.
The subject is one which is of
immense importance. It is not too much to say that the prosperity or decay
of organized Christianity depends on the maintenance of the Christian Sabbath.
Break down the fence which now surrounds the Sunday, and our Sunday schools
will soon come to an end. Let in the Hood of worldliness and
pleasure-seeking on the Lord's Day, without check or hindrance, and our
congregations will soon dwindle away. There is not too much religion in the
land now. Destroy the sanctity of the Sabbath, and there would soon be far less.
Nothing in short, I believe, would so thoroughly advance the kingdom of Satan
as to withdraw legal protection from the Lord's Day. It would be a joy to
the infidel; but it would be an insult and offence to God.
I ask the attention of all
professing Christians, while I try to say a few plain words on the subject of
the Sabbath. As a minister of Christ, a father of a family, and a lover of my
country, I feel bound to plead on behalf of the old Christian Sunday. My
sentence is emphatically expressed in the words of Scripture -- let us "keep it
holy." My advice to all Christians is to contend earnestly for the whole day
against all enemies, both without and within. It is worth a struggle.
There are four points in
connection with the Sabbath, which require examination. On each of these I wish
to offer a few remarks.
1. THE AUTHORITY OF THE
Let me, in the first place,
consider the authority on which the Sabbath stands.
I hold it to be of primary
importance to have this point clearly settled in our minds. Here is the very
rock on which many of the enemies of the Sabbath make shipwreck. They tell us
that the day is "a mere Jewish ordinance," and that we are no more bound to keep
it holy than to offer sacrifice. They proclaim to the world that the observance
of the Lord's Day rests upon nothing but Church authority, and cannot be proved
by the Word of God.
Now I believe that those who
say such things are entirely mistaken.
My own firm conviction is,
that the observance of a Sabbath Day is part of the Eternal Law of God.
It is not a mere temporary Jewish ordinance. It is not a man-made institution of
priestcraft. It is not an unauthorized imposition of the Church. It is one of
the everlasting rules which God has revealed for the guidance of all mankind.
It is a rule that many nations without the Bible have lost sight of, and buried,
like other rules, under the rubbish of superstition and heathenism. But it was a
rule intended to be binding on all the children of Adam.
What saith the Scripture? This
is the grand point after all. What public opinion says, or newspaper writers
think, matters nothing. We are not going to stand at the bar of man when we die.
He that judgeth us is the Lord God of the Bible. What saith the Lord?
(a) I turn to the history
of Creation. I there read that "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified
it" (Gen. 2:3). I find the Sabbath mentioned in the very beginning of all
things. There are five things which were given to the father of the human race,
in the day that he was made. God gave him a dwelling-place, a work to do, a
command to observe, a helpmeet to be his companion, and a Sabbath Day to keep. I
am utterly unable to believe that it was in the mind of God that there ever
should be a time when Adam's children should keep no Sabbath.
(b) I turn to the giving of the Law on Mount
Sinai. I there read one whole commandment out of ten devoted to the Sabbath
Day, and that the longest, fullest, and most detailed of all (Exod. 20:8-11). I
see a broad, plain distinction between these Ten Commandments and any other part
of the Law of Moses. It was the only part spoken in the hearing of all the
people, arid after the Lord had spoken it, the Book of Deuteronomy expressly
says, "He added no more" (Deut. 5:22). It was delivered under circumstances of
singular solemnity, and accompanied by thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. It
was the only part written on tables of stone by God Himself. It was the only
part put inside the ark. I find the law of the Sabbath side by side with the law
about idolatry, murder, adultery, theft, and the like. I am utterly unable to
believe that it was meant to be only of temporary obligation.
(c) I turn to the writings
of the Old Testament Prophets. I find them repeatedly speaking of the breach
of the Sabbath, side by side with the most heinous transgressions of the moral
law (Ezek. 20:13, 16, 24; 22:8, 26). I find them speaking of it as one of the
great sins which brought judgments on Israel and carried the Jews into captivity
(Neh. 13:18; Jer. 17:19-27). It seems clear to me that the Sabbath, in their
judgment, is something far higher than the washings and cleansings of the
ceremonial law. I am utterly unable to believe, when I read their language, that
the Fourth Commandment was one of the things one day to pass away.
(d) I turn to the teaching
of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. I cannot discover
that our Saviour ever let fall a word in discredit of any one of the Ten
Commandments. On the contrary, I find Him declaring at the outset of His
ministry, "that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil," and the context
of the passage where He uses these words, satisfies me that He was not speaking
of the ceremonial law, but the moral (Matt. 5:17). I find Him speaking of the
Ten Commandments as a recognized standard of moral right and wrong: "Thou
knowest the Commandments" (Mark 10:19). I find Him speaking eleven times on the
subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions
which the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it, and
never to deny the holiness of the day. He no more abolishes the Sabbath,
than a man destroys a house when he cleans off the moss or weeds from its roof.
Above all, I find our Saviour taking for granted the continuance of the
Sabbath, when He foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. "Pray ye," He says
to the disciples, "that your flight be not on the Sabbath Day" (Matt. 24:20). I
am utterly unable to believe, when I see all this, that our Lord did not mean
the Fourth Commandment to be as binding on Christians as the other nine.
(e) I turn to the writings
of the Apostles. I there find plain speaking about the temporary nature of
the ceremonial law and its sacrifices and ordinances. I see them called "carnal"
and "weak." I am told they are a "shadow of things to come," -- "a schoolmaster
to bring us to Christ,' and "ordained till the time of reformation." But I
cannot find a syllable in their writings which teaches that any one of the Ten
Commandments is done away. On the contrary, I see St. Paul speaking of the
moral law in the most respectful manner, though he teaches strongly that it
cannot justify us before God. When he teaches the Ephesians the duty of children
to parents, he simply quotes the Fifth Commandment: "Honour thy father and
mother, which is the first commandment with promise" (Rom. 7:12; 13:8; Eph. 6:2;
1 Tim. 1:8). I see St. James and St. John recognizing the moral law, as a rule
acknowledged and accredited among those to whom they wrote (James 2:10; 1 John
3:4). Again I say that I am utterly unable to believe that when the Apostles
spoke of the law, they only meant nine commandments, and not ten.'
(f) I turn to the practice
of the Apostles, when they were engaged in planting the Church of Christ.
I find distinct mention of their keeping one day of the week as a holy
day (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). I find the day spoken of by one of them as
"the Lord's Day" (Rev. 1:10). Undoubtedly the day was changed: -- it was
made the first day of the week in memory of 'our Lord's resurrection, instead of
the seventh: -- but I believe the Apostles were divinely inspired to make
that change, and at the same time wisely directed to make no public decree about
it. The decree would only have raised a ferment in the Jewish mind, and caused
needless offence: the change was one which it was better to effect gradually,
and not to force on the consciences of weak brethren. The spirit of the Fourth
Commandment was not interfered with by the change in the smallest degree: the
Lord's Day, on the first day of the week, was just as much a day of rest after
six days' labour, as the seventh-day Sabbath had been. But why we are told so
pointedly about the "first day of the week" and "the Lord's Day," if the
Apostles kept no one day more holy than another, is to my mind whole
(g) I turn, in the last place,
to the pages of unfulfilled prophecy. I find there a plain prediction
that in the last days, when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth,
there shall still be a Sabbath. "From one Sabbath to another shall all flesh
come to worship before Me, saith the Lord" (Isa. 66:23). The subject of this
prophecy no doubt is deep. I do not pretend to say that I can fathom all its
parts: but one thing is very certain to me -- and that is that in the glorious
days to come on the earth there is to be a Sabbath, and a Sabbath not for the
Jews only, but for "all flesh." And when I see this I am utterly unable to
believe that God meant the Sabbath to cease between the first coming of Christ
and the second. I believe He meant it to be an everlasting ordinance in His
I ask serious attention to these
arguments from Scripture. To my own mind it appears very plain that wherever
God has had a Church in Bible times, God has also had a Sabbath Day. My own
firm conviction is, that a Church without a Sabbath
would not be a Church on the model of Scripture.
Let me close this part of the
subject by offering two cautions, which I consider are eminently squired
by the temper of the times.
For one thing, let us beware
of under-valuing the Old Testament.
There has arisen of late years a most unhappy tendency to slight and despise any
religious argument which is drawn from an Old Testament source, and to regard
the man who uses it as a dark, benighted, and old-fashioned person. We shall do
well to remember that the Old Testament is just as much inspired as the New, and
that the religion of both Testaments is in the main, and at the root, one and
the same. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the
Gospel in full flower. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the blade: the New
Testament is the Gospel in full ear. The Old Testament saints saw many things
through a glass darkly: but they looked to the same Christ by faith and were led
by the same Spirit as ourselves. Let us, therefore, never listen to those who
sneer at Old Testament arguments. Much infidelity begins with an ignorant
contempt of the Old Testament.
For another thing, let us
beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments.
I grieve to observe how exceedingly loose and unsound the opinions of many men
are upon this subject. I have been astonished at the coolness with which even
clergymen sometimes speak of them as a part of Judaism, which may be classed
with sacrifices and circumcision. I wonder how such men can read them to their
congregations every week! For my own part, I believe that the coming of
Christ's Gospel did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments one hair's
breadth. If anything, it rather exalted and raised their authority. I
believe, that in due place and proportion, it is just as important to expound
and enforce them, as to preach Christ crucified. By them is the knowledge of
sin. By them the Spirit teaches men their need of a Saviour. By them the Lord
Jesus teaches His people how to walk and please God. I suspect it would be well
for the Church if the Ten Commandments were more frequently expounded in the
pulpit than they are. At all events, I fear that much of the present ignorance
on the Sabbath question is attributable to erroneous views about the Fourth
2. THE PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH
The second point I propose to
examine, is the purpose for which the Sabbath was appointed.
I feel it imperatively
necessary to say something on this point. There is no part of the Sabbath
question about which there are so many ridiculous misstatements put forward.
Many are raising a cry in the present day, as if we were inflicting a positive
injury on them in calling on them to keep the Sabbath holy. They talk as if
the observance of the day were a heavy yoke, like circumcision and the washings
and purifications of the ceremonial law.
But the Sabbath is God's
merciful appointment for the common benefit of all mankind.
It was "made for man" (Mark 2:27). It was given for the good of all classes, for
the laity quite as much as for the clergy. It is not a yoke, but a blessing. It
is not a burden, but a mercy. It is not a hard wearisome requirement, but a
mighty public benefit. It is not an ordinance which man is bid to use in faith,
without knowing why he uses it. It is one which carries with it its own reward.
It is good for man's body and mind. It is good for nations. Above all, it is
good for souls.
(a) The Sabbath is good for
man's body. We all
need a day of rest. On this point, at any rate, all medical men are agreed.
Curiously and wonderfully made as the human frame is, it will not stand
incessant work without regular intervals of repose. The first gold-diggers of
California soon found out that! Reckless and ungodly as many of them probably
were -- urged on as they were, no doubt, by the mighty influence of the hope of
gain -- they still found out that a seventh day's rest was absolutely needful to
keep themselves alive. Without it they discovered that in digging for gold they
were only digging their own graves. I firmly believe that one reason why the
health of working clergymen so frequently fails, is the great difficulty they
find in getting a day of rest. I am sure if the body could tell us its wants, it
would cry loudly "Remember the Sabbath Day."
(b) The Sabbath is good for
man's mind. The
mind needs rest quite as much as the body; it cannot bear an uninterrupted
strain on its powers; it must have its intervals to unbend and recover its
force. Without them it will either prematurely wear out, or fail suddenly, like
a broken bow. The testimony of the famous philanthropist, Wilberforce, on this
point is very striking. He declared that he could only attribute his own power
of endurance to his regular observance of the Sabbath Day. He remembered that he
had observed some of the mightiest intellects among his contemporaries fail
suddenly at last, and their possessors come to melancholy ends; and he was
satisfied that in every such case of mental shipwreck the true cause was neglect
of the Fourth Commandment.
(c) The Sabbath is good for
nations. It has an
enormous effect both on the character and temporal prosperity of a people. I
firmly believe that a people which regularly rests one day in seven will do more
work and better work in a year than a people which never rest at all. Their
hands will be stronger; their minds will be clearer; their power of attention,
application, and steady perseverance will be far greater.
(d) Last, but not least,
the Sabbath is an unmixed good for man's soul. The soul has its wants just
as much as the mind and body. It is in the midst of a hurrying, bustling world,
in which its interests are constantly in danger of being jostled out of sight.
To have those interests properly attended to, there must be a special day set
apart; there must be a regularly recurring time for examining the state of our
souls; there must be a day to test and prove us, whether we are prepared for an
eternal heaven. Take away a man's Sabbath, and his religion soon comes to
nothing. As a general rule, there is a regular Right of steps down from "no
Sabbath" to "no God."
I know well that many say that
"religion does not consist in keeping days and seasons." I agree with them. I am
quite aware that it needs something more than Sabbath observance to save our
souls. But I would like such persons to tell us plainly what kind of religion
that is which teaches people to keep no days holy at all.
I know well that there are
some good people who contend that "every day ought to be holy" to a true
Christian, and on this ground deprecate the special sanctification of the
first day of the week. I respect the conscientious convictions of such people. I
would go as far as anyone in contending for an "every day religion," and
protesting against a mere Sabbath Christianity; but I am satisfied that the
theory is unsound and unscriptural. I am convinced that, taking human nature
as it is, the attempt to regard every day as a Lord's Day would result in
having no Lord's Day at all. None but a thorough fanatic, I presume, would
say that it is wrong to have stated seasons for private prayer, on the ground
that we ought to "pray always"; and few, I am persuaded, who look at the world
with the eyes of common sense, will fail to see, that to bring religion to bear
on men with full effect, there must be one day in the week set apart for this
Whether we know it or not, our
Sabbath is one of our richest possessions. It is good for our bodies, minds, and
souls. Of it the famous words may be truly used, that "it is the cheap defense
of a nation."
3. HOW IT SHOULD BE KEPT
I propose, in the third place,
to show the manner in which the Sabbath ought to be kept. This is a branch
of the subject on which great difference of opinion exists: it is one on which
even the friends of the Sabbath are not thoroughly agreed. Many, I believe,
would contend as strongly as I do for a Sabbath, but not for the Sabbath for
which I contend. My desire is simply to state what appears to be in the mind of
God as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Once for all, I must plainly
say that I cannot entirely agree with those who tell us that they do not want a
Jewish Sabbath, but a Christian one. I doubt whether such persons clearly know
what they mean. If they object to a Pharisaic Sabbath, I agree with them; if
they object to a Mosaic Sabbath, I would have them consider well what they say.
I can find no clear evidence that the Old Testament Sabbath was intended by
Moses to be more strictly kept than the Christian Sunday.
What then appears to be the
will of God about the manner of observing the Sabbath Day? There are two general
rules laid down for our guidance in the Fourth Commandment, and by them all
questions must be decided.
One plain rule about the
Sabbath is that it must be kept as a day of rest, All work of every kind
ought to cease as far as possible, both of body and mind.
"Thou shalt not do any work,
thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant nor thy maid-servant, nor
thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates." Works of necessity and
mercy may be done. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this, and teaches also that
all such works were allowable in the Old Testament times. "Have ye not read," He
says, "what David did?" -- "Have ye not read that the priests in the temple
profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?" (Matt. 12:5). Whatever, in short, is
necessary to preserve and maintain life, whether of ourselves, or of the
creatures, or to do good to the souls of men, may be done on the Sabbath Day
The other great rule about
the Sabbath is, that it must be kept holy.
It is not to be a carnal, sensual rest, like that of the worshippers of the
golden calf, who "sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play" (Exod. 32:6).
It is to be emphatically a holy rest. It is to be a rest in which, as far as
possible, the affairs of the soul may be attended to, business of another world
minded, and communion with God and Christ kept up. In short, it ought never to
be forgotten that it is "the Sabbath of the Lord our God" (Exod. 20:10).
I ask attention to these two
general rules, I believe that by them all Sabbath questions may be safely
tested. I believe that within the bounds of these rules every lawful and
reasonable want of human nature is fully met, and that whatsoever transgresses
these bounds is sin.
I am no Pharisee. Let no
hard-working man who has been confined to a close room for six weary days,
suppose that I object to his taking any lawful relaxation for his body on the
Sunday. I see no harm in a quiet walk on a Sunday, provided always that
it does not take the place of going to public worship, and is really quiet, and
like that of Isaac (Gen. 24:63). I read of our Lord and His disciples walking
through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. All I say is, beware that you do
not turn liberty into license -- beware that you do not injure the souls of
others in seeking relaxation for yourself -- and beware that you never forget
you have a soul as well as a body.
I am no enthusiast. I want no
tired labourer to misunderstand my meaning, when I bid him to keep the Sabbath
holy. I do not tell anyone that he ought to pray all day, or read his Bible all
day, or go to church all day, or meditate all day, without let or cessation, on
a Sunday. All I say is, that the Sunday rest should be a holy rest. God ought to
be kept in view; God's Word ought to be studied; God's House ought to be
attended; the soul's business ought to be specially considered; and I say that
everything which prevents the
day being kept holy in this
way, ought as far as possible to be avoided.
I am no admirer of a gloomy
religion. Let no one suppose that I want Sunday to be a day of sadness and
unhappiness. I want every Christian to be a happy man: I wish him to have "joy
and peace in believing," and to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God." I want
everyone to regard Sunday as the brightest, cheerfulest day of all the seven;
and I tell everyone who finds such a Sunday as I advocate a wearisome day, that
there is something sadly wrong in the state of his heart. I tell him plainly
that if he cannot enjoy a "holy" Sunday, the fault is not in the day, but in his
I can well believe that many
will think that I am setting the standard of Sabbath observance far too high.
The thoughtless and worldly, the lovers of money and lovers of pleasure, will
all exclaim that I am requiring what is impossible. It is easy to make such
assertions. The only question for a Christian ought to be, "What does the Bible
teach?" God's measure of what is right must surely not be brought down to the
measure of man: man's measure should rather be brought up to the measure of God.
I maintain no other standard
of Sabbath observance than that which all the best and holiest Christians of
every Church and nation have maintained almost without exception. It is
extraordinary to mark the harmony there is among them on this point. They have
differed widely on other subjects in religion: -- they have even disagreed as to
the grounds on which they defend Sabbath sanctification: -- but as soon as you
come to the practical question, "how the Lord's Day ought to be observed," the
unity among them is truly surprising.
Last, but not least, I want no
other standard of Sabbath observance than that to which a calm, rational
reflection on things yet to come will lead every sober-minded person. Are we
really going to die one day and leave this world? Are we about to appear before
God in another state of existence? Are these things so, or are they not? Surely,
if they are, it is not too much to ask men to give one day in seven to God; it
is not too much to require them to test their own meetness for another world by
spending the Sabbath in special preparation for it. Common sense, reason,
conscience, will combine, I think, to say that if we cannot spare God one day
in a week, we cannot be living as those ought to live who must die one day.
4. WAYS IN WHICH IT IS
The last thing I propose to
do, is to expose some of the ways in which the Sabbath is profaned.
There are two kinds of Sabbath
desecration which require to be noticed. One is that more private kind of
which thousands are continually guilty, and which can only be checked by
awakening men's consciences. The other is that more public kind, which
can only be remedied by the pressure of public opinion, and the strong arm of
When I speak of private
Sabbath desecration, I mean that reckless, thoughtless, secular way of
spending Sunday, which everyone who looks round him must know is common. How
many make the Lord's Day a day for giving dinner parties -- a day for
looking over their accounts and making up their books -- a day for going on
unnecessary journeys and quietly transacting worldly business -- a
day for reading newspapers or novels -- a day for talking politics and
idle gossip -- a day, in short, for anything rather than the things of
Now all this sort of thing is
wrong, decidedly wrong. Thousands, I firmly believe, never give the subject a
thought: they sin from ignorance and inconsideration. They only do as others;
they only spend Sunday as their fathers and grandfathers did before them: but
this does not alter the case. It is utterly impossible to say that to spend
Sunday as I have described is to "keep the day holy": it is a plain breach of
the Fourth Commandment, both in the letter and in the spirit. It is impossible
to plead necessity or mercy in one instance of a thousand. And small and
trifling as these breaches of the Sabbath may seem to be, they are exactly the
sort of things that prevent men communing with God and getting good from His
When I speak of public
desecration of the Sabbath, I mean those many open, unblushing
practices, which meet the eye on Sundays in the neighbourhood of large towns. I
refer to the practice of keeping shops open, and buying and selling on
Sundays. I refer especially to Sunday pleasure excursions by public
transport and the opening of places of public amusement; and to the daring
efforts which many are making in the present day to desecrate the Lord's Day,
regardless of its Divine authority. "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy."
On all these points I feel not
the smallest doubt in my own mind. These ways of spending the Sabbath are all
wrong, decidedly wrong. So long as the Bible is the Bible, and the Fourth
Commandment the Fourth Commandment, I dare not come to any other conclusion.
They are all wrong. These ways of spending Sunday are none of them works of
necessity or works of mercy. There is not the slightest likeness between them
and any of the things which the Lord Jesus explains to be lawful on the Sabbath
Day. To heal a sick person, or pull an ox or ass out of a pit, is one thing: to
travel in excursion trains, or go to concerts, theatres, dances and cinemas, is
quite another. The difference is as great as between light and darkness. These
ways of spending Sunday are none of them of a holy tendency, or calculated to
help us heavenward. No, indeed! all experience teaches that it needs something
more than the beauties of art and nature to teach man the way to heaven.
These ways of spending Sunday
have never yet conferred moral or spiritual good in any place where they have
been tried. They have been tried for hundreds of years in Italy, in Germany and
in France. Sunday amusements and sports have been long tried in Continental
cities. But what benefit have they derived that we should wish to imitate them?
What advantages have we to gain by making a London Sunday like a Sunday in Paris
or other continental cities. It would be a change for the worse, and not for the
Last, but not least,
these ways of spending Sunday inflict a cruel injury on the souls of multitudes
of people, Public transportation cannot be run on Sundays without
employing thousands of persons if people will make Sunday a day for
travelling and excursions. Entertainments cannot be opened on Sundays without
the employment of many to cater for those who patronise them. And have not all
these unfortunate persons immortal souls? Do they not all need a day of rest
as much as anyone else? Beyond doubt they do. But Sunday is no Sunday to
them, so long as these public desecrations of the Sabbath are permitted. Their
life becomes a long unbroken chain of work, work, unceasing work: in short, what
is play to others becomes death to them. Away with the idea that a
pleasure-seeking, Continental Sabbath is mercy to anyone! It is nothing less
than an enormous fallacy to call it so. Such a Sabbath is real mercy to nobody,
and is positive sacrifice to some.
I write these things with
sorrow. I know well, to how many of my fellow-countrymen they apply. I have
spent many a Sunday in large towns. I have seen with my own eyes how the day of
the Lord is made by multitudes a day of wordliness, a day of ungodliness, a day
of carnal mirth, and too often a day of sin. But the extent of the disease must
not prevent us exposing it: the truth must be told.
There is one general
conclusion to be drawn from the conduct of those who publicly desecrate the
Sabbath in the way I have described. They show plainly that they are at present
"without God" in the world. They are like those of old who said, "When will the
Sabbath be gone?" -- "What a weariness it is!" (Amos 8:5; Mal. 1:13). It is an
awful conclusion, but it is impossible to avoid it. Scripture, history, and
experience all combine to teach us, that delight in the Lord's Word, the Lord's
service, the Lord's people, and the Lord's Day, will always go together. Sunday
pleasure-seekers are their own witnesses. They are every week practically
declaring, "We do not like God -- we do not want Him to reign over us.
It is not the slightest
argument, in reply to what I have said, that many great and learned men see no
harm in Sunday entertainment, sport and pleasure. It matters nothing in
religious questions, who does a thing: the only point to be ascertained is,
"whether it be right."
Let us take our stand on the
Bible, and hold fast its teaching. Whatever others may think lawful, let our
sentence ever be that one day in seven, and one whole day, ought to be kept holy
A FINAL APPEAL
And now I wish to address a
parting word to several classes of persons who may read these pages. I write as
a friend. I ask for a fair and patient hearing.
(1) I appeal first of all
to all who are in the habit of breaking the Sabbath.
Whether you break it in public or private, whether you break it in company or
alone, I have somewhat to say to you.
I ask you to consider
seriously, how you will answer for your present conduct in the day of judgment.
I put it solemnly to your conscience. I ask you to think quietly and calmly, how
utterly unfit you are to appear before God. You cannot live always: you must one
day lie down and die. You cannot escape the great assize in the world to come:
you must stand before the great white throne, and give account of all your
works. These are great realities, and you know they are true. I repeat it
deliberately: unless you are prepared to take up some fable of man's invention,
and to be that poor credulous creature, a skeptic, you know these things are
Where is your preparedness for
meeting God and reckoning with Him? Where is your readiness for an eternity in
His company, and the society of saints and angels? Yes! I may well ask, Where?
You cannot give an answer. You cannot give God one single day in seven! It
wearies you to spend one-seventh part of your time in attempting to know
anything about Him, before whose bar you are going one day to stand!
Oh, Sabbath-breaker, consider
your ways, and be wise!
What harm has Sunday done to
the world, that you should hate it so much? What harm has God done you, that you
should so obstinately turn your back on His laws? What injury has the Christian
Faith done to mankind, that you should be so afraid of having too much? Look on
the heavens above you, and think of the mighty Being, Who is the eternal God.
Go to the house of God, and
hear the Gospel preached. Confess your past sin at the Throne of Grace, and ask
pardon through that blood which "cleanses from all sin." Arrange your time on
Sunday so that you may have leisure for quiet, sober meditation on eternal
things. Avoid the company that would lead you to talk only of this world.
Take down your long-neglected Bible, and study its pages. Do it, do it
without a week's delay! It may be hard at First, but it is worth a struggle.
Do it, and it will be well for you both in time and eternity.
(2) I appeal, in the next
place, to all who either belong to the industrial community,
or profess to fake an interest in their condition.
I ask you then, never to be
taken in and deluded by those who want the sanctity of the Lord's Day to be more
publicly invaded than it is, and yet tell you they are "the friends of the
working-classes." Believe me, they are in reality their worst enemies: they are
taking the surest course to add to their burdens. They do not mean it, very
likely, but in reality they are doing them a cruel injury.
Be assured that if our
Sundays are ever turned into days of play and amusement, they will soon become a
day of labour and work.
It is vain to suppose that it can be avoided: it never has been in other
countries; it never would be in our own land.
I do trust that all working
people in England will not be deceived about this Sabbath question. Of all
people on earth they are the most interested in it. None have so much to lose in
this matter as they, and none have so little to gain.
(3) I appeal, in the next
place, to all who profess to reverence the Sabbath, and have no wish to see its
I ask you to consider whether
you may not be more strict in keeping the Sabbath Day holy than you have been
hitherto. I am sadly afraid there is much laxity in many quarters on this point.
I fear that many who have no thought of infringing the Fourth Commandment are
culpably inconsiderate and careless as to the way in which they obey its
precepts. I fear that the world gets into the Sundays of many a respectable
church-going family far more than it ought to do. I fear that many keep the
Sabbath themselves, but never give others a chance of keeping it holy. I fear
that many, who keep the Lord's Day with much outward propriety when they are at
home, are often grievous Sabbath-breakers when they go abroad. I fear that
hundreds of British travellers do things on Sundays on the Continent, which they
would never do in their own land.
This is a sore evil; if we
really love the Lord's Day, let us prove our love by our manner of using it.
Wherever we are, whether at home or abroad -- whether in Protestant or Roman
Catholic countries -- let our conduct on Sunday be such as becomes the day.
Let us never forget that the eyes of the Lord are in every place and that the
Fourth Commandment is just as binding on us in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, or
France, as it is in our own country. Last, but not least, let us remember that
the Fourth Commandment speaks of our "man-servant and maid-servant," as well as
(4) I appeal, in the last
place, to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and are zealous in
His cause. I ask
you, then, to consider whether it does not become the solemn duty of all true
Christians to take far more effectual measures than we have done hitherto, to
preserve the holiness of the Lord's Day?
We form societies to defend
the Lord's Day, and propose measure after measure in Parliament to stop
Sunday trading. But is that enough? No: it is not!
The truth must be spoken: --
we must begin lower down. We cannot make people religious by Acts of Parliament
alone. We must teach right as well as forbid wrong: we must try to prevent evil
as well as repress it. We must strike at the root of the evils we deplore. We
must endeavour to evangelize the masses of men and women who now break their
Sabbaths every week. We must show them a better way. We must divert this
fountain of Sabbath-breaking into different channels and not content ourselves
with damming up its waters when they overflow.
I commend these things to the
attention of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Let London,
Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and other large towns be thoroughly evangelized,
and you will strike a deadly blow at the root of all Sabbath breaking.
The plain truth is, that
the Sabbath-breaking of the present day is one among many proofs of the low
state of vital religion.
I pray God that we may all
learn wisdom and amend our ways before it be too late. We want more work for
Christ. We want a return to the old paths of the Apostles in every branch of the
Church; we want a generation of ministers whose first ambition is to go into
every room in their parish, and tell the story of the cross of Christ. Unless
our large towns are more thoroughly evangelized, we shall never be without a
struggle TO KEEP THE SABBATH HOLY.
The following quotations from notable ministers are appended. In a day like
the present when we are so often told that learned divines deny the Divine
authority of the Lord's Day, it may be well to show the reader that there
are other divines, and some eminently learned, who take an entirely
LET US HEAR WHAT BAXTER
SAYS: "It hath been the constant practice of all Christ's Churches in the
whole world ever since the days of the Apostles to this day, to assemble for
public worship on the Lord's Day, as a day set apart thereto by the
Apostles. Yea, so universal was this judgment and practice, that there is no
one Church, no one writer, or one heretic that I remember to have read of,
that can be proved even to have dissented or gainsaid it till of late
times." Baxter on the Divine Appointment of the Lord's Day, 1680.
LET US NEXT HEAR
LIGHTFOOT: "The first day of the week was everywhere celebrated for the
Christian Sabbath, and which is not to be passed over without observing, as
far as appears from Scripture, there is nowhere any dispute about the
matter. There was controversy concerning circumcision, and other points of
the Jewish religion. Whether they were to be retained or not, but nowhere do
we read concerning the changing of the Sabbath. There were indeed, some Jews
converted to the Gospel, who as in some other things they retained a smack
of their old Judaism, so they did in the observance of days (Rom. 14:5; Gal.
4:10), but yet not rejecting or neglecting the Lord's Day. They celebrated
it and made no manner of scruple, it appears, concerning it; but they would
have their old festival days too: and they disputed not at all, whether the
Lord's Day were to be celebrated, but whether the Jewish Sabbath ought not
to be celebrated also." -- Lightfoot's Works, vol. xii., 556. 1670.
The whole subject of the
change from the seventh-day Sabbath to the Lord's Day is one which the
reader will find admirably handled in the Sermons of Bishop Daniel Wilson,
On the Lord's Day.
"We are not poorer in England, but richer, because we have, through many
ages, rested from our labour one day in seven. That day is not lost. While
industry is suspended, while the plough lies in the furrow, while the
Exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the factory, a process is
going on quite as important to the wealth of nations as any process which is
performed on more busy days. Man, the machine of machinery, the machine
compared with which all the contrivances of the Watts and Arkwrights are
worthless, is repairing and winding up, so that he returns to his labour on
the Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirits, with renewed
corporal vigour." -- Macaulay's Speech on the Ten Hours Bill. Speeches, pp.
450, 453, 454.
The famous Blackstone
says, "The keeping one day in seven holy, as a time of relaxation and
refreshment, as well as for public worship, is of admirable service to a
State, considered merely as a civil institution." -- Blackstone's
Commentaries, vol. 4, p. 63.