« ZurückWeiter »
have harassed and worn them out with incessant toil; and when they implored, by looks and signs of distress, some little intermission, would perhaps have answered them in the language of Pharaoh's task-masters, "Ye are idle, ye are idle. There shall not "aught of your daily tasks be diminished; "let more work be laid upon them, that they may labour therein*."
That this is no uncandid representation of the natural hardness of the human heart, till it is subdued and softened by the influences of divine grace, we have but too many unanswerable proofs, in the savage treatment which the slaves of the ancients, even of the most civilized and polished ancients, met with from their unrelenting masters. To them, alas! there was no sabbath, no seventh day of rest! The whole week, the whole year, was, in general, with but few exceptions, one uninterrupted round of labour, tyranny, and oppression.
To these inhumanities the merciful temper of our religion has in a great measure put an end; but there are others, arising
*Exod v. 9. 1 i. 17
from the most shameful intrusions on the sacred leisure of the sabbath, which it has not yet been able to overcome. Look into the streets of this great metropolis on the Lord's Day, and see whether they convey the idea of a day of rest. Do not our servants and our cattle seem to be almost as fully occupied on that day as on any other? And, as if this was not a sufficient infringement of their rights, we contrive, by needless entertainments at home, and needless journies abroad, which are often by choice and inclination reserved for this very day, to take up all the little remaining part of their leisure time. A sabbath day's journey was, among the Jews, a proverbial expression for a very short one. Among us it can have no such meaning affixed to it. That day seems to be considered by too many, as set apart, by divine and human authority, for the purpose, not of rest, but of its direct opposite, the labour of travelling; thus adding one day more of torment to those generous but wretched animals whose services they hire; and who, being generally strained beyond their strength the other six days of the week, have,
have, of all creatures under heaven, the best and most equitable claim to suspension of labour on the seventh. Considerations such as these may perhaps appear to some below the dignity of this place, and the solemnity of a Christian assembly. But benevolence, even to the brute creation, is, in its degree, a duty, no less than to our own species; and it is mentioned by Solomon as a striking feature in the character of a righteous man, that" he is merciful even to his beast." HE, without whose permission "not a sparrow "falls to the ground, and who feedeth the young ravens that call upon him,” will not suffer even the meanest work of his hands to be treated cruelly with impunity. He is the common father of the whole creation. He takes every part of it under his protection. He has, in various passages of Scripture, expressed his concern even for irrational creatures, and has declared more especially, in the most explicit terms, that the rest of the sabbath was meant for our cattle and our servants as well as for ourselves.
II. But cessation from labour is not the only duty of the Lord's Day. Although it
is to be a day of rest, yet it is not to be, what too many seem willing to make it a day of indolence and inactivity. There are employments marked out for it of a very important nature; and of these the first and most essential is,
THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. It is evident, both from reason and Scrip、 ture, that public worship is a most useful and indispensable duty. It is equally evident that if this duty is to be performed, some fixed and stated time for performing it is absolutely necessary; for without this it is impossible that any number of persons can ever be collected together in one place. Now one day in seven seems to be as proper and convenient a portion of our time, to be allotted to this use, as any other that can be named. "The returns of it are frequent enough to keep alive the sense of religion in our hearts, and distant enough to leave a very sufficient interval for our worldly concerns."
If then this time was fixed only by the laws, or even by the customs of our country, it would be our duty and our wisdom to comply with it. Considering it merely as an
ancient usage, yet if antiquity can render an usage venerable, this must be of all others the most venerable; for it is coeval with the world itself. But it had moreover, as we have seen, the sanction of a divine command. From the very beginning of time God blessed and sanctified the seventh day to the purposes of religion. That injunction was again repeated to the Jews in the most solemn manner at the promulgation of their law from mount Sinai, and once more urged upon them by Moses in the words of the text:
Keep the Sabbath-day, to sanctify it, as the "Lord thy God hath commanded thee."... i
After our Lord's resurrection, the first day of the week was, in memory of that great event, substituted in the room of the seventh; and from that time to the present, that is, for almost eighteen hundred years, it has been constantly set apart for the public worship of God by the whole Christian world. And, whatever difference of opinion there may have been in other respects, in this all parties, sects, and denominations of Christians, have universally and invariably agreed. By these
Gen. ii. 3.
+ Exod. xx. 8, 9, 10, 11.