Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, When you come into the land which I give you…
I. THE OPPRESSION WHICH NOW EXISTS, AND WHICH IT IS OUR DUTY TO REMOVE. There can be no doubt that there is a fierce spirit of competition abroad — a spirit which pervades every trade, which enters every profession, which stalks about our exchange, sits by the merchant and the banker at their desks, opens the shop early and closes it late, excites angry feeling and envy, makes the man of business anxious and excited abroad, sullen or fretful at home, which unfastens the restraints of religion and honour, interposes between neighbour and neighbour, friend and friend, relation and relation: it suggests enterprises which are rash, bargains which are hard, speculations of doubtful morality, and acts which once would have made the honest cheek to glow with the blush of shame. This spirit it is which leads to fearful embarrassments, unlawful expedients, a wretched parsimony, a false appearance, a costly display, a feverish existence, an untimely end. Oh! if there be a people to whom it is a duty to sound this warning, "Take heed and beware of covetousness," that nation is our own. It has been most truly said, that the "desire of accumulation is the source of all our greatness and all our baseness. It is at once our glory and our shame. It is the cause of our commerce, of our navy, of our military triumphs, of our enormous wealth, and our marvellous inventions; and it is the cause of our factions and animosities, of our squalid pauperism, and the worse than heathen degradation of our population." This spirit has burst forth with such a fearful wide-spreading influence that men begin to look aghast, and wonder what it will lead to. Poets have sung of such a time; the Word of God has warned us against it; statesmen are meditating upon it; the press is thundering against it; and very late — alas! too late!-the pulpit is giving utterance to the wise, loving counsels of One who said, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses." Now, before I proceed to place before you the oppression which prevails, and the serious consequences which are resulting from it, let me ask, however this question may affect yourself, whether you would wish such a state of things to go on unchecked and unrebuked? Would you wish the fever of speculation, of competition, to increase? Would you wish the spirit of dissatisfaction amongst the working classes to strengthen? There can be no question that whilst many schemes of Christian benevolence and piety have been started and carried out, having reference to other lands, there has prevailed amongst ourselves a wretchedness and depth of suffering which ought long ago to have been investigated and relieved. This misery has been unheeded, not because other objects have enlisted sympathy and received attention — for that would be a foul libel upon that charity which "never faileth," and can alike stretch forth its arms to succour the African slave and bend down to whisper comfort and advice to the miserable at home — but there has grown up so silently and gradually a monster evil, that even the victims themselves have been slow to discern its character, and slower still to suggest a remedy. The human frame is limited in its power of enduring fatigue; and when we consider that there are thousands who are employed in constant labour for more than twelve hours, often, too, in an unwholesome atmosphere and in a constrained position, you will be prepared for the statement, made upon medical testimony, that impaired, exhausted frames, and often an untimely death, are the fruits of this system. Oh! think, I pray, of these bitter wrongs; think of the agony of spirit, the long-protracted hopeless effort, the attenuated frame, the hollow cheek, the chilled eye, the tottering limbs, the constant heart weight, the cheerless room, the sleepless night, the voiceless, gnawing feeling of despair; yes, think of this occurring in London, with its churches, and Houses of Parliament, and Exeter Hall meetings, and greetings to Crimean heroes, and running to help some sturdy vagabond beggar, and then remember, with shame and confusion of face, that it has been written, "Ye shall not therefore oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the Lord your God."
II. It would not be of any use if we were to content ourselves with sighing over all these miseries, instead of inquiring WHAT STEPS MAY BE TAKEN TO ALLEVIATE AND REDRESS THEM. I have, therefore, drawn your attention to that painful subject in the hope of inducing you to sympathise with the efforts which are now made, especially by the Early Closing Association, to ameliorate the condition of the working classes. It is very satisfactory, then, and encouraging to feel, that the interests of the employer and the employed are in this respect identical; for it is evident that it cannot be for the advantage of the employer that, the health, and energy, and spirit, and moral principle of those he employs should be undermined. The manufacturer would soon suffer if the quality of his raw material became deteriorated; and if the stamina of England's working men became weakened, her producing power would necessarily become less. Now it is encouraging to find that the employers of labour are themselves becoming more alive to the necessity of something being done. I could easily multiply instances of employers who are alive to the duty as well as advantage of taking steps to improve the condition of the employed. And what are these steps? The closing earlier every day, the payment of wages on Thursday or Friday, or, at all events, at an early hour on Saturday, and the Saturday half-holiday. Are these inconsistent with the interests of employers? Far from it. We have ample testimony to prove that the labourers so relieved will apply themselves with increased alacrity to their work, animated with gratitude to their employers, and stimulated by a new-found hope. Then will the English home resume its cheerfulness; then will the husband and father taste the delights which purify and soften, and then, too, will the Sabbath dawn on many who will spring forth to perform its hallowed duties, to feel its soothing influence, and to worship in the courts of Him who hath said — "Ye shall not oppress one another; but thou shalt fear thy God: for I am the Lord your God."
(C. F. S. Money, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD.