A day does not mean half a day, any more than one thousand days mean five hundred. When we say, "A day in thy courts is better than a thousand," we are understood to mean that we find the worship of God more pleasant than the works of man, and if we do not find it thus pleasant, what hope is there that we are among the number of those "who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, and rise up in his holy place?" If the love of God's ancient worshippers led them to attend both the morning and evening sacrifice, what is ours, which can be content with but one of these?
One reason why some churchmen count the Lord's day so much better than other days, is because of their peculiar privileges. They consider their liturgy, or form of public worship, so rich and resplendent--so spiritual, tasteful and instructive--that, provided it be well-read, they account it to be worth a dozen sermons. Now such churchmen as these have a delightful prospect before them, for this glorious liturgy is said twice, every Lord's day; therefore it is, that by such, above all other men, our text may be taken as a motto, or a [3/4] maxim: "A day in thy courts is better than a thousand,"--a whole day with the whole service, both morning and evening.
Again, a Sabbath day is not half a day, because the full benefit of it cannot be reached without a separation and consecration of the whole time. If a man attends divine service in the morning only, and not in the afternoon, he gets but a taste or sip of the water of life; so full of this world is his heart and mind during the week, that it takes the whole of the morning service and sermon to drive the world out of his mind, or to get him--in a sea phrase--"out of sight of land." But if, as soon as he gets "out of sight of land" he turns about and heads for the land, at night he is just where he was in the morning. Indeed, if he attends upon a faithful and an awakening ministry, a man of the world, by a solemn morning service, only whets his appetite for Sunday secularities. The dark prospect at which he shudders in the morning, serves only as a fine contrast for the feasting of the afternoon.
It is impossible to enter fully into the spirit of our liturgy, without previous preparation of heart and mind. It was the counsel of Solomon: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in Heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few." Think how difficult it is suddenly to change the thoughts and spirit of the mind from grief to gladness: quite as difficult is it, to turn from common conversation to the worship of that [4/5] God, "before whom Angels bow and Archangels veil their faces." Hence, the long opening service in the morning is but a preparation for the second or shorter service in the afternoon; and not until both these are concluded, is the mind in its best frame to read and inwardly digest the Holy Scripture. It is to be feared that some of those who boast most of their admiration of our liturgy, have only buzzed around it, as it were, not having as yet entered the hive, or tasted one drop of the honey.
The Sabbath is not half a day, from another reason: the mind requires a change of objects and pure rest, just as much as the body. You may have a fine illustration of this by watching the countenances of men on Monday morning, while crossing the river to commence their week-days' work. The men who have kept the Sabbath day have so freed their minds from business thoughts, and have for twenty-four hours breathed such a pure and different atmosphere, that to return to business is a pleasure, because it is again a change. But the poor galley-slaves, who have tugged at the oar all Sunday, as well as the week previous, and who are doomed to tug on the next week also,--return to their work on Monday with long faces and depressed spirits. They have read over the secular news, and the Monday morning paper is not like fresh fruit picked from the tree. Alas! alas! (with my views,) setting religion entirely aside,--if I was a man of business, I would lock up all my business affairs, and business letters, and counting-house cares, on Saturday night; and I would not touch a secular paper on Sunday, nor allow one to enter my house. Mr. Wilberforce, in commenting on the suicide of Lord Castlereagh, one [5/6] of the British Cabinet Ministers, thinks his self-destruction entirely owing to his not keeping Sunday. The great load of business was on his mind continually, and was never taken off. It was pressing on it--pressing on it,--until his mind gave way and became unbalanced. Any one who goes to Westminster Abbey now, and reads the figures 57 and 47 on the graves of Fox and Pitt, no keepers of the Sabbath,--with the figures 74 on the grave of Wilberforce,--may easily infer that it was because this last pious man, born the same year with Pitt, inferior to him in bodily health, engaged in the same battles, could say from his heart,--"A day in thy courts is better than a thousand." O the blessings of true Christianity! "Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand, riches and honor."
In passing, I cannot but remark that the reverse of this is found among the working clergy of the Church: they have no rest from their studies; the Sabbath is a day of labor to them, and it takes all the previous six days to do the work of God in the parish, and to prepare for the pulpit on the seventh. That is the reason they suffer so much, as a class, from ill health; and when not from this, from morbid depression of spirits and imaginary evils.
Laboring ministers ought to take one day in every seven for pure rest. But I suppose they do not take one day in a month, nor one in three months. The midsummer vacation is relied upon to supply all such repose; but it would be far better for the clergy to have little or no vacation except that which God has required of all men--to take one day in seven. This seems, however, impossible; for the very day, during the last week, which I attempted to [6/7] devote to this purpose, when it came, found me engaged in imperative duties both with the living and the dead.
Again, to employ half the Sabbath for amusement is not consistent with esteeming the Sabbath a day above a thousand. We often hear that men are so wearied with the labors of the week, and so confined by business that they must have half the Sabbath for recreation.
I have been told that converted Pagans, in the principal settlement at the Sandwich Islands, have a custom of leaving off all labour, on Saturday at noon and of repairing to a place a few miles off, like the Central Park, for public amusements of all kinds; and hence they were prepared for keeping the Lord's day holy. But this plea of want of time for amusement, is not more common than the plea of not having time for religious exercises. If I ask seven men out of eight,--"Why are you not religious?" The reply is,--"I have not time, my business presses me too much." But, business does not always press; there are busy seasons, and seasons of comparative leisure. Alas! it is easy to see that these are mere excuses; most men are at business not more than eight or ten hours a day, and fourteen hours remain unemployed; while the majority of those who are engaged for, a longer period,--I apprehend will be found to be Sabbath keepers; they are the sterling and responsible men of society. The numerous theatres well supported, the opera houses, assembly rooms, societies, balls and parties, clubs, lodges, libraries and fellowships, taverns, drinking saloons, and public meetings, prove to a demonstration, that we are not a down trodden race, oppressed by [7/8] labour alone. If Dr. Franklin were living, and delivering his proverbs now, as he did in the days of "Poor Richard," he would say that we suffer far more from our amusements than from our labour. I am in favor of public amusements, of an innocent kind, especially of all athletic sports. I am an advocate for close attention to business, during business hours, and for keeping mere gossips out of counting rooms.
The holy rest of the Sabbath, and a mental occupation with the Gospel of Christ, are the best remedies for all evils, and the best resources for all minds. One day spent in God's house, will do more to freshen up an over-tasked mind, than can any common amusement. But even such a day, is only for three hours.
This matter must be a personal one; each man must consider it and conclude for himself. He can easily observe that Sabbath breakers do not prosper, are not happy, and are not respected. He must also see that those who keep the Sabbath, do appear to take pleasure in it,--a great pleasure,--a thousand fold more pleasure than they take in week days I am not surprised when a careless sinful man of the world, is heard to say;--"Give me entertainment, and I will attend church,"--would that all God's ministers had the power of entertaining as well as instructing sinners! But if mere entertainment is the object of the sinner, something better than this should be the object of the saint. He should come because be loves "the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob," and because he enjoys the service of the church. He should come all day, because the good of the morning he should [8/9] wish to have riveted in the afternoon. Men who respect the day and rest from labour, come for the sake of occupation; time hangs heavily on their hands and they perceive that the Holy Scriptures read in public, and read with solemnity, and by God's ambassador, have a force which they can no where else have.
These are general remarks which concern all Christian Churches. The members of every Christian Church form a society by themselves: the welfare of that society is an object of importance to all its professed members, and they will, not only by their pecuniary means, but in every other way promote its interests. One most important way is to attend upon its services; to be present on all occasions at public worship, on the Sabbath at least, and in a devout and impressive manner to take part in its services. With such it should not be a matter of convenience, nor of ease, nor of personal attachment to the minister; but their coming should grow out of that deep principle, which gave rise to the text; that is, the preference of the Sabbath-day, in God's house, to a thousand out of it. What a sight is that, in the eyes of a heart searching God, when a Christian professor,--a pledged member of this divine society, is reclining at home on his couch, during the offering of the evening sacrifice in his own church; while men who make no profession of religion (who have never been baptized,) come for example sake, and for the honor of the church, which they attend at the second service as well as the first; it will be well in such cases, if he last is not first, and the first last.
 St. Ann's Church has been so prosperous an institution for fifty years, that its members have never been called on to make any exertions to keep it up; none of those especial efforts made by many other churches to increase their members, or to rent their pews, have ever been resorted to. The responsibility of being a member of St. Ann's church, has been as light as a feather, and now, but in one point, is exertion required,--that is to keep up the second service; all else about this parish is prosperous. St. Ann's Church is peculiarly situated. It was built upon its present locality, fifty-five years ago, in the centre of a small village. That village has grown to be a great city, of six or eight miles in extent, and containing two hundred thousand inhabitants. But this Church remains just where it was. Its parishioners have been removing their residences from it for a quarter of a century, and now it requires an effort to visit it twice on the Lord's day. The remedy is the removal of the building, and for this we have a good site on our own land. But, it has not been removed, and whether it ever will, remains with you--the people. But surely, if the Church is kept where it is, by your wishes, you should make the effort to attend upon its services. The Lord's day is just as long now as ever. The morning and evening sacrifice exists in the Christian just as much as in the Jewish Church. We cannot have this without worshippers, and who will be expected more certainly to attend than communicants. Some may say,--"If you will have the service in the evening, instead of the afternoon, we will attend." This has been tried but without [10/11] effect. Our church is situated at an extremity of a great city. If there is no service in the afternoon, most of the Parishoners will go to some other place, of worship and when night comes, will not attend a third service, at such a distance. There is nothing but principle, true religious principle, that will bring men twice a day to God's house to' offer up the divinely appointed morning and evening sacrifice. We see that the boastful admiration of our Liturgy, will not do it; all such boasting is vain; such admirers will content themselves by feeding very sparingly, after all on their delicious food.
My object in this discourse is to call your attention to the mournful fact, of the fast fading away of the latter part of the holy Sabbath. Men once went regularly to church, both in the morning and afternoon; now they have cast off one half of their reverence. The next stage in the downward progress will be to cast off all regular attendance.
It is true, that if the Sabbath is secularised and the church is turned into a halt of science--a place for political and stormy appeals, a few such places in a city will be filled to overflowing, while regular gospel churches will be deserted. What I am aiming at., is to revive and re-establish the principles of Sabbath-keeping, to raise up men in this church to fear God and keep his commandments, to strengthen and confirm a religious principle in the plastic minds of the young, which will induce them to take their stand for the morning and afternoon services and for the worship of God, and for the spending of the evening of the Lord's day, at home with their families.
The Episcopal church was always moderate. [11/12] It never adopted a Jewish or a Puritan Sabbath; and now that the Puritans are fast going to the opposite extreme from severity, it resists the tendency that way. We do not believe in any such extremes
The Sabbath is God's day for the soul, to be spent--first, in rest,--secondly, in offering to God divine worship, morning and evening,--thirdly, in doing good,--and fourthly, in household charities and domestic intercourse. The Sabbath is not a fast day, though I think it would be better to enjoy the feasting, when the afternoon service is concluded.
At all events, my brethren, happy is the man who can say,--"A day within these courts below, is better than a thousand." He is prepared for the courts above. What must be that happiness, which is so great during three hours only, that it makes the whole twenty-four hours better than twenty-four thousand of worldliness. This undoubtedly is a figure of Rhetoric; but still I have myself enjoyed more happiness in one certain and particular hour with God's people, in Gods worship, than I had for one thousand days before, and more than 1 did for one thousand days afterward. I said:
"My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
Till it is call'd to soar away
To everlasting bliss."