There has been an awful letting-down in this country regarding the sabbath during the last twenty-five years, and many a man has been shorn of spiritual power, like Samson, because he is not straight on this question. Can you say that you observe the sabbath properly? You may be a professed Christian: are you obeying this commandment? Or do you neglect the house of God on the sabbath day, and spend your time drinking and carousing in places of vice and crime, showing contempt for God and His law? Are you ready to step into the scales? Where were you last sabbath? How did you spend it?
I honestly believe that this commandment is just as binding to-day as it ever was. I have talked with men who have said that it has been abrogated, but they have never been able to point to any place in the Bible where God repealed it. When Christ was on earth, He did nothing to set it aside; He freed it from the traces under which the scribes and Pharisees had put it, and gave it its true place. "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." It is just as practicable and as necessary for men to-day as it ever was -- in fact, more than ever, because we live in such an intense age.
The sabbath was binding in Eden, and it has been in force ever since. This fourth commandment begins with the word "remember," showing that the sabbath already existed when God wrote this law on the tables of stone at Sinai. How can men claim that this one commandment has been done away with when they will admit that the other nine are still binding?
I believe that the sabbath question to-day is a vital one for the whole country. It is the burning question of the present time. If you give up the sabbath the church goes; if you give up the church the home goes; and if the home goes the nation goes. That is the direction in which we are traveling.
The church of God is losing its power on account of so many people giving up the sabbath, and using it to promote selfishness.
HOW TO OBSERVE THE SABBATH.
"Sabbath" means "rest," and the meaning of the word gives a hint as to the true way to observe the day. God rested after creation, and ordained the sabbath as a rest for man. He blessed it and hallowed it. "Remember the rest-day to keep it holy." It is the day when the body may be refreshed and strengthened after six days of labor, and the soul drawn into closer fellowship with its Maker.
True observance of the sabbath may be considered under two general heads: cessation from ordinary secular work, and religious exercises.
I. -- CESSATION FROM SECULAR WORK.
A man ought to turn aside from his ordinary employment one day in seven. There are many whose occupation will not permit them to observe Sunday, but they should observe some other day as a sabbath. Saturday is my day of rest because I generally preach on Sunday, and I look forward to it as a boy does to a holiday. God knows what we need.
Ministers and missionaries often tell me that they take no rest-day; they do not need it because they are in the Lord's work. That is a mistake. When God was giving Moses instructions about the building of the tabernacle, He referred especially to the sabbath, and gave injunctions for its strict observance; and later, when Moses was conveying the words of the Lord to the children of Israel, he interpreted them by saying that not even were sticks to be gathered on the sabbath to kindle fires for smelting or other purposes. In spite of their zeal and haste to erect the tabernacle, the workmen were to have their day of rest. The command applies to ministers and others engaged in Christian work to-day as much as to those Israelite workmen of old.
WORKS OF NECESSITY AND OF EMERGENCY.
In judging whether any work may or may not be lawfully done on the sabbath, find out the reason and object for doing it. Exceptions are to be made for works of necessity and works of emergency. By "works of necessity" I mean those acts that Christ justified when He approved of leading one's ox or ass to water. Watchmen, police, stokers on board steamers, and many others have engagements that necessitate their working on the sabbath. By "works of emergency" I mean those referred to by Christ when He approved of pulling an ox or an ass out of a pit on the sabbath day. In case of fire or sickness a man is often called on to do things that would not otherwise be justifiable.
A Christian man was once urged by his employer to work on Sunday. "Does not your Bible say that if your ass falls into a pit on the sabbath, you may pull him out?" "Yes," replied the other; "but if the ass had the habit of falling into the same pit every sabbath, I would either fill up the pit or sell the ass."
Every man must settle the question as it effects unnecessary work, with his own conscience.
No man should make another work seven days in the week. One day is demanded for rest. A man who has to work the seven days has nothing to look forward to, and life becomes humdrum. Many Christians are guilty in this respect.
Take, for instance, the question of sabbath traveling. I believe we are breaking God's laws by using the cars on Sunday and depriving conductors and others of their sabbath. Remember the fourth commandment expressly refers to "the stranger that is within thy gates." Doesn't that touch sabbath travel?
But you ask, "What are we to do? How are we to get to church?"
I reply, on foot. It will be better for you. Once when I was holding meetings in London, in my ignorance I made arrangements to preach four times in different places one sabbath. After I had made the appointments I found I had to walk sixteen miles; but I walked it, and I slept that night with a clear conscience. I have made it a rule never to use the cars, and if I have a private carriage, I insist that horse and man shall rest on Monday. I want no hackman to rise up in judgment against me.
My friends, if we want to help the sabbath, let business men and Christians never patronize cars on the sabbath. I would hate to own stock in those companies, to be the means of taking the sabbath from these men, and have to answer for it at the day of judgment. Let those who are Christians at any rate endeavor to keep a conscience void of offence on this point.
There are many who are inclined to use the sabbath in order to make money faster. This is no new sin. The prophet Amos hurled his invectives against oppressors who said, "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?"
Covetous men have always chafed under the restraint, but not until the present time do we find that they have openly counted on sabbath trade to make money. We are told that many street car companies would not pay if it were not for the sabbath traffic, and the sabbath edition of newspapers is also counted upon as the most profitable.
The railroad men of this country are breaking down with softening of the brain, and die at the age of fifty or sixty. They think their business is so important that they must run their trains seven days in the week. Business men travel on the sabbath so as to be on hand for business Monday morning. But if they do so God will not prosper them.
Work is good for man and is commanded, "Six days shalt thou labor;" but overwork and work on the sabbath takes away the best thing he has.
NECESSARY AND BENEFICIAL.
The good effect on a nation's health and happiness produced by the return of the sabbath, with its cessation from work, cannot be overestimated. It is needed to repair and restore the body after six days of work. It is proved that a man can do more in six days than in seven. Lord Beaconsfield. said: "Of all divine institutions, the most divine is that which secures a day of rest for man. I hold it to be the most valuable blessing conceded to man. It is the corner-stone of all civilization, and its removal might affect even the health of the people." Mr. Gladstone recently told a friend that the secret of his long life is that amid all the pressure of public cares he never forgot the sabbath, with its rest for the body and the soul. The constitution of the United States protects the president in his weekly day of rest. He has ten days, "Sundays excepted," in which to consider a bill that has been sent to him for signature. Every workingman in the republic ought to be as thoroughly protected as the president. If workingmen got up a strike against unnecessary work on the sabbath, they would have the sympathy of a good many.
"Our bodies are seven-day clocks," says Talmage, "and they need to be wound up, and if they are not wound up they run down into the grave. No man can continuously break the sabbath and keep his physical and mental health. Ask aged men, and they will tell you they never knew men who continuously broke the sabbath, who did not fail in mind, body, or moral principles."
All that has been said about rest for man is true for working animals. God didn't forget them in this commandment, and man should not forget them either.
II. -- RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
But "rest" does not mean idleness. No man enjoys idleness for any length of time. When one goes on a vacation, one does not lie around doing nothing all the time. Hard work at tennis, hunting, and other pursuits fills the hours. A healthy mind must find something to do.
Hence the sabbath rest does not mean inactivity. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." The best way to keep off bad thoughts and to avoid temptation is to engage in active religious exercises.
As regards these, we should avoid extremes. On the one hand we find a rigor in sabbath observance that is nowhere commanded in Scripture, and that reminds one of the formalism of the Pharisees more than of the spirit of the gospel. Such strictness does more harm than good. It repels people and makes the sabbath a burden. On the other hand we should jealously guard against a loose way of keeping the sabbath. Already in many cities it is profaned openly.
When I was a boy the sabbath lasted from sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, and I remember how we boys used to shout when it was over. It was the worst day in the week to us. I believe it can be made the brightest day in the week. Every child ought to be reared so that he shall be able to say, with a friend, that he would rather have the other six days weeded out of his memory than the sabbath of his childhood.
Make the sabbath a day of religious activity. First of all, of course, is attendance at public worship. "There is a discrepancy," says John McNeill, "between our creed about the sabbath day and our actual conduct. In many families, at ten o'clock on the sabbath, attendance at church is still an open question. There is no open question on Monday morning -- 'John, will you go to work to-day?'"
A minister rebuked a farmer for not attending church, and said, "You know John you are never absent from market."
"O," was the reply, "we must go to market."
Some one has said that without the sabbath the church of Christ could not, as a visible organization, exist on earth. Another has said that "we need to be in the drill of observance as well as in the liberty of faith." Human nature is so treacherous that we are apt to omit things altogether unless there is some special reason for doing them. A man is not likely to worship at all unless he has regularly appointed times and means for worship. Family and private devotions are almost certain to be omitted altogether unless one gets into the habit, and has a special time set apart daily.
I remember blaming my mother for sending me to church on the sabbath. On one occasion the preacher had to send some one into the gallery to wake me up. I thought it was hard to have to work in the field all the week, and then to be obliged to go to church and hear a sermon I didn't understand. I thought I wouldn't go to church any more when I got away from home; but I had got so in the habit of going that I couldn't stay away. After one or two sabbaths, back again to the house of God I went. There I first found Christ, and I have often said since,
"Mother, I thank you for making me go to the house of God when I didn't want to go."
Parents, if you want your children to grow up and honor you, have them honor the sabbath day. Don't let them go off fishing, and getting into bad company, or it won't be long before they will come home and curse you. I know few things more beautiful than to see a father and mother coming up the aisle with their daughters and sons, and sitting down together to hear the Word of God. It is a good thing to have the children, not in some remote loft or gallery, but in a good place, well in sight. Though they cannot understand the sermon now, when they get older they won't desire to break away, they will continue attending public worship in the house of God.
But we must not mistake the means for the end. We must not think that the sabbath is just for the sake of being able to attend meetings. There are some people who think they must spend the whole day at meetings or private devotions. The result is that at nightfall they are tired out, and the day has brought them no rest. The number of church services attended ought to be measured by the person's ability to enjoy them and get good from them, without being wearied. Attending meetings is not the only way to observe the sabbath. The Israelites were commanded to keep it in their dwellings as well as in holy convocation. The home, that centre of so great influence over the life and character of the people, ought to be made the scene of true sabbath observance.
Jeremiah classified godless families with the heathen: "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate."
Many mothers have written to me at one time or another to know what to do to entertain their children on the sabbath. The boys say, "I do wish 'twas Night," or, "I do hate the sabbath," or, "I do wish the sabbath was over." It ought to be the happiest day in the week to them, one to be looked forward to with pleasure. In order to this end, many suggestions might be followed. Make family prayers especially attractive by having the children learn some verse or story from the Bible. Give more time to your children than you can give on week days, reading to them and perhaps taking them to walk in the afternoon or evening. Show by your conduct that the sabbath is a delight, and they will soon catch your spirit. Set aside some time for religious instruction, without making this a task. You can make it interesting for the children by telling Bible stories and asking them to guess the names of the characters. Have Sunday games for the younger children. Picture books, puzzle maps of Palestine, etc., can be easily obtained. Sunday albums and Sunday clocks are other devices. Set aside attractive books for the sabbath, not letting the children have these during the week. By doing this, the children can be brought to look forward to the day with eagerness and pleasure.
Apart from public and family observance, the individual ought to devote a portion of the time to his own edification. Prayer, meditation, reading, ought not to be forgotten. Think of men devoting six days a week to their body, which will soon pass away, and begrudging one day to the soul which will live on and on forever: Is it too much for God to ask for one day to be devoted to the growth and training of the spiritual senses, when the other senses are kept busy the other six days?
If your circumstances permit, engage in some definite Christian work -- such as teaching in Sunder school, or visiting the sick. Do all the good you can Sin keeps no sabbath, and no more should good deeds. There is plenty of opportunity in this fallen world to perform works of mercy and religion. Make your sabbath down here a foretaste of the eternal sabbath that is in store for believers.
You want power in your Christian life, do you? You want Holy Ghost power? You want the dew of heaven on your brow? You want to see men convicted and converted? I don't believe we shall ever have genuine conversions until we get straight on this law of God.
Men seem to think they have a right to change the holy day into a holiday. The young have more temptations to break the sabbath than we had forty years ago. There are three great temptations: first, the trolley car, that will take you off into the country for a nickel to have a day of recreation; second, the bicycle, which is leading a good many Christian men to give up their sabbath and spend the day on excursions; and the third, the Sunday newspaper.
Twenty years ago Christian people in Chicago would have been horrified if any one had prophesied that all the theatres would be open every sabbath; but that is what has come to pass. If it had been prophesied twenty years ago that Christian men would take a wheel and go off on Sunday morning and be gone all day on an excursion, Christians would have been horrified and would have said it was impossible; but that is what is going on to-day all over the country.
THE SUNDAY NEWSPAPER.
With regard to the Sunday newspaper, I know all the arguments that are brought in its favor -- that the work on it is done during the week, that it is the Monday paper that causes Sunday work, and so on. But there are two hundred thousand newsboys selling the paper on Sunday. Would you like to have your boy one of them? Men are kept running trains in order to distribute the papers. Would you like your sabbath taken away from you? If not, then practise the Golden Rule, and don't touch the papers.
Their contents make them unfit for reading any day, not to say Sunday. Some New York dailies advertise Sunday editions of sixty pages. Many dirty pieces of scandal in this and other countries are raked up and put into them. "Eight pages of fun!" -- that is splendid reading for Sunday, isn't it? Even when a so-called sermon is printed, it is completely buried by the fiction and news matter. It is time that ministers went into their pulpits and preached against Sunday newspapers if they haven't done it already. Put the man in the scales that buys and reads Sunday papers. After reading them for two or three hours he might go and hear the best sermon in the world, but you couldn't preach anything into him. His mind is filled up with what he has read, and there is no room for thoughts of God. I believe that the archangel Gabriel himself could not make an impression on an audience that has its head full of such trash. If you bored a hole into a man's head, you could not inject any thoughts of God and heaven.
I don't believe that the publishers would allow their own children to read them. Why then should they give them to my children and to yours?
A merchant who advertises in Sunday papers is not keeping the sabbath. It is a master-stroke of the devil to induce Christian men to do this in order to make trade for Monday. But if a man makes money, and yet his sons are ruined and his home broken up, what has he gained?
Ladies buy the Sunday papers and read the advertisements of Monday bargains to see what they can buy cheap. Just so with their religion. They are willing to have it if it doesn't cost anything.
If Christian men and women refused to buy them, if Christian merchants refused to advertise in them, they would soon die out, because that is where they get most of their support.
They tell me the Sunday paper has come to stay, and I may as well let it alone. Never! I believe it is a great evil, and I shall fight it while I live. I never read a Sunday paper, and wouldn't have one in my house. They are often sent me, but I tear them up without reading them. I will have nothing to do with them. They do more harm to religion than any other one agency I know. Their whole influence is against keeping the sabbath holy. They are an unnecessary evil. Can't a man read enough news on week days without desecrating the sabbath? We had no Sunday papers till the war came, and we got along very well without them. They have been increasing in size and in number ever since then, and I think they have been lowering their tone ever since. If you believe that, help to fight them too. Stamp them out, beginning with yourself.
PUNISHMENT OR BLESSING?
No nation has ever prospered that has trampled the sabbath in the dust. Show me a nation that has done this, and I will show you a nation that has got in it the seeds of ruin and decay. I believe that sabbath desecration will carry a nation down quicker than anything else. Adam brought marriage and the sabbath with him out of Eden, and neither can be disregarded without suffering. When the children of Israel went into the Promised Land God told them to let their land rest every seven years, and He would give them as much in six years as in seven. For four hundred and ninety years they disregarded that law. But mark you, Nebuchadnezzar came and took them off into Babylon, and kept them seventy years in captivity, and the land had its seventy sabbaths of rest. Seven times seventy is four hundred and ninety. So they did not gain much by breaking this law. You can give God His day, or He will take it.
On the other hand, honoring the fourth commandment brings blessing. "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honor Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words ('thine own' as contrasted with what God enjoins), then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
I do not know what will become of this republic if we give up our Christian sabbath. If Satan can break the conscience down on one point, he can break it down on all. When I was in France in 1867, I could not tell one day from the other. On Sunday stores were open and buildings were erected, the same as on other days. See how quickly that country went down. One hundred years ago France and England stood abreast in the march of nations. Where do they stand to-day? France undertook to wipe out the sabbath, and has pretty nearly wiped itself out, while England belts the globe.
A FIRM STAND.
We have a fighting chance to save this nation, and what we want is men and women who have moral courage to stand up and say:
"No, I will not touch the Sunday paper, and all the influence I have I will throw dead against it. I will not go away on Saturday evening if I have to travel on Sunday to get back. I will not do unnecessary work on the sabbath. I will do all I can to keep it holy as God commanded."
But some one says: "Mr. Moody, what are you going to do? I have to work seven days a week or starve."
Then starve! Wouldn't it be a grand thing to have a martyr in the nineteenth century? "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Some one says the seed is getting very low; it has been a long time since we have had any seed. I would give something to erect a monument to such a martyr to his fidelity to God's law. I would go around the world to attend his funeral.
We want to-day men who will make up their minds to do what is right, and stand by it if the heavens tumble on their heads. What is to become of Christian Associations and Sunday Schools, of churches and Christian Endeavor Societies, if the Christian sabbath is given up to recreation, and made a holiday? Hasn't the time come to call a halt if men want power with God? Let men call you narrow and bigoted, but be man enough to stand by God's law, and you will have power and blessing. That is the kind of Christianity we want just now in this country. Any man can go with the crowd, but we want men who will go against the current.
Sabbath-breaker, are you ready to step into the scales?