THIS declaration of the divine author and finisher of our faith, implies that the observance of the sabbath, that is, of a day of rest from worldly employment, and of devotion to the service of the Almighty, is of universal and immutable obligation. The sabbath was not made, or set apart as peculiarly holy, for the Jews alone, but for MAN of every kindred and tongue and nation. When solemnly promulgated to the assembled Israelites from Mount Sinai, it was only a renewal of the command already required; for before it pleased God to call Abraham from beyond the river, to make him the father of a peculiar people, and even in Paradise before the fall, it was enjoined to the common progenitor of us all, not only as a law but as a privilege. It is an institution for the benefit, of every human being, and this benefit, as far as their nature permits their participation in it, is mercifully permitted to extend to the brute creation. On this day no manner of work, unless proceeding from the call of piety, charity, or absolute necessity, is to be done by the master, or by the servant; and even the cattle are included within the enjoined respite from labour.
The objects of this divine institution are clearly the glory of God, and the good of man. After the Almighty had finished his six days' work of creation, he rested on the seventh day, and because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made, he blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The blessing and the hallowing of the seventh day were therefore intended to commemorate the goodness of the Al mighty in forming the world, and giving existence to all that is therein. We are reminded by the sacred rest of the sabbath, that the life which we at present enjoy, and every thing that supports this life, are to be referred to the first exercise of God's creative power upon earth. Even the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, when the foundations of the earth were fastened and the corner stone thereof laid: and is it fitting that MAN, for whom this vast and beautiful fabric was raised, and to whom dominion was given over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of time air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth, that man, himself the last and noblest of these works should remain indifferent to the clay which the Almighty consecrated in remembrance of the completion of the creation.
But while God regarded his own glory in thus setting apart the sabbath as a day of holy rest, he had also an especial regard to the good of man. Our Saviour declared that the sabbath was made for man; and though we are required to ob serve it as a day commemorative of the power and goodness of the Almighty displayed in the first creation of the world yet this observance is enjoined, not for the sake of the divine Legislator, (for God is far too exalted to need the praises of any of his creatures,) but as immediately and necessarily beneficial to man.
We are all born for immortality, and this our life of probation is only the fore runner of one future and eternal. Were we entirely to abstract our thoughts from the God to whom we are responsible, and from the everlasting happiness or misery which is awarded to us beyond the grave, according to that we have done in the body whether it be good or bad, our affections would be chained down to the world and its passing vanities, and no preparation would be made for communion with God, which must constitute through eternity the happiness and perfection of the soul.
It was partly to break asunder this un due attachment to the things of this life, that every seventh day is by God's appointment a day devoted to prayer and to the other services of religion. It is to prevent us from forgetting our God, and from being absorbed in the uninterrupted pursuit of earthly things, that fixed and recurring seasons are thus made holy by the Almighty, and appropriated to himself as an offering due from his rational creatures. Any attempt to frustrate this benevolent 'purpose of our Creator, and wilfully to desecrate the portion of time which lie has hallowed, invariably leads to the neglect of our best interests. It is followed by an exclusive regard for the perishable body, and a reckless unconcern for the immortal part of us--surviving and imperishable soul.
This is no imaginary evil. Its reality has been. experienced, accompanied with some of the worst consequences of infidelity, wherever, in open violation of the command which requires us to keep one day in seven holy, the sabbath has been confounded with the other days of the week, and been employed in the ordinary business or diversions of life. It is still in the memory of many among us with what fearful strides irreligion followed the open and authorized neglect of the Lord's day in republican France; and closely associated with irreligion were many of the most appalling and disastrous scenes of that awful period.
I may further remark, that the design of the Almighty in appointing the sabbath to be a day of holy rest, extended to the body as well as to the soul of man. I believe few will deny that an occasional cessation from toil is required for the health and due preservation of the animal frame. Incessant labour soon wears down the strongest constitution, and shortens the period granted as the ordinary term of human existence.
The exhaustion of the bodily strength of man by unremitting exertion in his daily employments, was obviated in the heathen world by the frequent celebration of festivals in honour of their false deities. And even among nations not bless ed with the light of Revelation it is not unusual to find a seventh day set apart for rest. Possibly this is a traditionary custom originating in the divine command as given to the progenitor of the human race, or at least it results from the ascertained necessity of stated intervals of repose from the ordinary occupations of life. Its prevalence, however, be its origin what it may, is a proof of the benevolence and wisdom of the divine command, which enjoins, that on the sabbath man shall do no manner of work, neither he, nor his children, nor his servants, nor even the cattle that are his.
Daring, then, beyond the ordinary daring of disobedience, must be the conduct of him, who would resist a command thus dictated in mercy, and framed with an especial reference to his own good and to the good of those around him. He may say, as many in their presumption have said, or in their practice have seemed to say, I will judge for my self on the expediency of resting on the sabbath, nor will I submit even to the highest authority in a matter which effects my present interests. But to such an one we may well apply the Apostle's language: Nay, but O man who art thou that repliest against God? Has the Almighty declared, that every returning seventh day should be given to rest and devotion, and shall man presume to say that it is not fitting? The Creator blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, and shall the creature annul the blessing, and pronounce that it shall not he sanctified?
It is worthy of remark, that many moral duties are recommended in the Sacred Volume, which are not the subject of a specific command in either of the two tables; while the injunction to keep holy the sabbath day is expressly recorded in the decalogue. The inference has been drawn, that this duty involves an obligation more peremptory and constraining than those which have not the same mark of distinction affixed to them. Of this at least we are certain, that from its having been written by the finger of God on the tables of stone, equally with the other commands, which are allowed to be binding on all men, it is clearly a moral precept, and therefore of perpetual and universal obligation.
The departure from the strict letter of the original command, and the substitution of the first day instead of the seventh as holy to the Lord, may seem to some to militate against the perpetuity of the obligation. A change indeed has been made, but not without reason, or due authority; nor does that change affect the moral part of the precept. The sabbath was made for man: and the specific object of it is equally provided for by the observance of a seventh day of rest and devotion, whether that day he the first or the last. The seventh was, no doubt, originally observed, but as the human race spread themselves over the earth, there must necessarily have arisen a variation in the time of keeping it: since in some regions the day is beginning at the very same moment when in others it is ending. It is therefore evident that the moral obligation of the precept cannot consist in the undeviating observance of the same identical period, and that the day need not he the same in all places and all ages of the world.
The sabbath, as it was promulgated to the Israelites from Mount Sinai, while it comprehended whatever is morally binding on man, possessed certain distinctive features which belonged to them as the peculiar people of God. The reason as signed for their keeping one day in the week holy, is purely national, and it there fore may thus far be classed among those precepts of the law which are of a civil and political, rather than of a moral character. The severe punishments consequent on the breach of the Jewish sabbath are equally peculiar and national. "There was a double reason rendered by God why the Jews should keep that sabbath which they did; one special, as to a seventh day, to show they worshipped that God who was the Creator of the world; the other individual, to signify their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage from which that seventh day was dated."
The Christian sabbath, in which the moral obligation of our resting on and hallowing one day in the seven, is fully preserved, unites both the general and the special reason; for while with the patriarchs we commemorate the creation, we celebrate also our Lord's triumphant rising from the grave, whereby he delivered us from spiritual slavery of which the Egyptian house of bondage was a type. Thus it combines, with the acknowledgment of the common benefit of the original creation, the memory "of the transcendent blessing of our new creation to the hope of everlasting life, of which our Lord's resurrection on the first day of the week is a sure pledge and evidence."
The deliverance of the Israelites from their house of temporal bondage will bear no comparison with the spiritual freedom purchased for all who believe in and obey him by the Captain of our salvation; and the glory of God, in producing all things out of nothing, is infinitely surpassed by the gospel scheme of salvation, whereby the sinner becomes a new creature in Christ, and puts on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. The sabbath has, therefore, been changed into the Lord's day, "that as the one did continually bring to mind the former world finished by creation, so the other might keep us in perpetual remembrance of a far better world, begun by him who came to restore all things, to make both heaven and earth new."
The practice of the apostles in assembling for the performance of their religious duties on the first day of the week--the sanction given to it by our Lord after his resurrection--its early designation as his day; and this by the beloved disciple, Rev. i. 10. and its continued observance throughout every subsequent age, as the Christian sabbath, combine to confer upon it a sanctity more solemn, and a validity more binding than can he claimed by any ordinance of man. Every human being is bound by the original command of God to rest on one day in seven. Every Christian is bound to rest on the Lord's day. "All days," says St. Jerome, "are alike of the Lord's creation; but other days may belong to the Jews, may belong to heretics, may belong to Gentiles or the heathen; but the Lord's day is the day of the resurrection, is the day of Christians--is our day.
The inhabitants of our West India Colonies have long had to contend against the reproach, that notwithstanding their outward profession of the religion of Christ, and their boasted adherence to the established churches of the mother country, the breach of the enjoined sanctity of the sabbath, which these churches recognize as a divine ordinance, has been encouraged among the greater part of their population. I rejoice to be able to say that the evil which, but a few years ago, notoriously existed in this island, and which by every sincere Christian was justly regarded as an offence both to God and to man, has been in a great measure redressed by a recent legislative enactment; and I express my conviction when I declare that the compulsory violation of the Lord's day is now almost unknown among us. [I say "almost," because by the existing law the owners of estates are expressly allowed to employ their slaves in the casking of sugar until ten o'clock on Sunday morning. It is with regret I am obliged to notice this tolerated and legalized infringement of the sanctity of the sabbath.] I consider that the present prohibitory laws, if duly enforced by the magistracy, are sufficient to prevent any very flagrant interruption to its sanctity. The marketing and huckstering which still partially exist, are rather connived at than publicly allowed; and from a mistaken kindness, or perhaps from some remaining pr in favour of a long-established usage, the evil is tolerated even in defiance of the law. The in stances of offence are, however, less common than formerly, and we may hope that with the increase of religious know ledge among us, our people will assemble on the sabbath, not to traffic and barter their goods, but to hear the word of God, and to join in congregational prayer.
I have reason to think that the indecent revellings and the disorderly and demoralizing dances on the Lord's day, formerly so common in this colony, are at present of comparatively rare occurrence. Wherever they take place, the offence lies more at the door of the master who encourages, by his permission, this breach of the sabbath, than of the slave who is, perhaps, ignorant that he is violating a divine command. A simple order from the proprietor, or from any of his subordinate white agents, would immediately abate the evil.
Notwithstanding these occasional and unchecked irregularities, evidently subversive of a positive Christian duty, I am bound in introducing the subject to declare, that in few of the colonies in the whole range of our West Indian possessions are the external decencies of the Lord's day more generally observed, or the obligation of joining in public worship more fully recognized, than in this island. I have noticed, in a previous lecture, the duty incumbent on the proprietor to encourage his slave population to partake on this day of the public ordinances of religion, and to require, under a salutary coercion, their attendance in the house of God. The increasing congregations of this class of our inhabitants on the sabbath, and the chapels which have recently been built for the acknowledged purpose of accommodating within their walls the negroes of the neighbouring estates, are an earnest that the master is beginning to appreciate justly the influence of the gospel on the mind of his slave, and that the sabbath will, at no distant time, be observed among us, not only as a day of rest from bodily toil, but of willing and active employment in the services due to the Almighty.
I wish not, by instituting a comparison between this and the neighbouring colonies with which I am officially connected, to express any harsh or uncharitable censure of abuses which, though in a great measure discontinued here, are still tolerated in some of them with a demoralizing effect on the great body of the people. In this island the cultivation of the garden or provision grounds of the negro on the sabbath is not required for his support, and it therefore is no blameable severity to enforce the laws which prohibit it. In the colonies alluded to, the necessity imposed on him of providing by extra labour for his maintenance, often compels him to work on the Sunday. But in this, and in every other case, in which the violation of the Lord's day is unavoidable, the guilt devolves on the master.
The Sunday market has been abolished by law in this island, though in the excepting clauses of the prohibitory act a licence is allowed for the sale of perishable articles, which, I am afraid, is open to great abuse. The duty of putting an end to the unchristian usage of marketing on the Lord's day is now generally acknowledged throughout the British West Indies. The desire, however, still remains in some of the colonies, to compromise the duty by legalizing the partial breach of the sabbath, and authorizing by a specific enactment, public trafficking in the markets until ten or eleven o'clock. [In St. Vincent's until ten, and in Dominica, St. Christopher's, Nevis, and Jamaica, until eleven.] There is in this palliative of the evil something more injurious to religion and good morals, than the practice which existed before, of devoting the entire day to secular occupations. The offence, though connived at, and even sanctioned by custom, was, then, always regarded as an offence. It has now the solemn sanction of law. The statutes and ordinances of man are presumptuously arrayed against the positive and known command of GOD.
It has been urged in this colony--and possibly in other parts of the West Indies we may hear the same excuse--that the master is unwilling to abridge the comforts of his slaves, by depriving them of the little gains which the privilege of a Sunday market affords them, or by for bidding the recreation of the Sunday revel or dance. There is something selfish in this boasted kindness. The master is favouring himself at the expense of God. He refuses to grant any portion of the time which is his own, while he gives away, with an ostentatious liberality, the time which is not his but his Lord's. His own work is rigidly exacted, while the neglect of God's work is tolerated and sometimes encouraged on the day which He claims as his.
I have spoken of the profanation of the Lord's day by the uneducated part of our population. In this violation of the Divine command, they are unhappily countenanced to a certain extent by the practice of many of their superiors in rank and intelligence. I need not dwell on the pernicious influence of bad example. It must be evident that when those, who have bad all the advantages of early instruction in the duties required of them as Christians, and who, moreover, possess the entire and uncontrolled use of six days out of the seven for business or pleasure, devote the Lord's day not to the public exercise of prayer and to private communion with their God; but to the settling of their worldly concerns, or to the dissipation of convivial parties, the evil exists in an aggravated form. It is not merely the master who is a sufferer by it, but the slave as well, who is led away by his master's example. Nor can the excuse be pleaded, that the well-in-- formed and the more affluent among us err in this matter through ignorance. They know their Lord's will, and their opposition to it is therefore presumptuous sin. And what is the direct and almost unavoidable consequence to them of this habitual profanation of the sabbath? We behold it in their speedy contempt of all religious observances and obligations--we behold it in their disregard of almost every duty which is enjoined by the Almighty, and which characterizes the sincere follower of Christ. And when results thus widely destructive of the best interests of man arise from the breach of the fourth commandment, shall it be said that I am actuated by feeelings of undue austerity, when I denounce the judgments of God against the sabbath-breaker; and when. I raise a warning voice to prevent the continuance of a sin so fraught with evil, both to the individuals guilty of it, and to the community by whom it is sanctioned?
We read in the sacred volume the following words:--May they not, without any strained interpretation, be made applicable to many of our colonial possessions in this part of the world? In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine-grapes and figs and ALL MANNER OF BURDENS which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I TESTIFIED AGAINST THEM IN THE DAY WHEREIN THEY SOLD VICTUALS. There dwell men of Tyre also, which BROUGHT FISH, AND ALL MANNER OF WARE, AND SOLD ON THE SABBATH DAY to the children of Judah and in Jerusalem. Then I CONTENDED WITH THE NOBLES OF JUDAH, AND SAID UNTO THEM, WHAT EVIL THING IS THIS THAT YE DO, AND PROFANE THE SABBATH DAY? DID NOT YOUR FATHERS THUS, AND DID NOT OUR GOD BRING ALL THIS EVIL UPON US, AND UPON THIS OUR CITY? YET YE BRING MORE WRATH upon Israel BY PROFANING THE SABBATH.
We have the assurance of scripture, and even if the authority of scripture were wanting, we have the history of past times to convince us, that righteousness exalteth a nation. Far be it from me to presume to scan the dealings of God with men, or to pronounce that nations, any more than individuals, when labouring under severe temporal calamity, are sinners above all others, because they suffer such things. But it is no unauthorized conclusion, that national prosperity or adversity is often the result of the presence or the absence of religious principle and conduct. Whether or not the distresses of which the complaints are so loud in these naturally fertile regions, be a punishment inflicted in mercy by the Almighty, to remind us forcibly and feelingly of the neglect of his ordinances, it is beyond the knowledge of man to determine; hut the beneficial design of such chastisement will not he lost on us, if we are led by them seriously to consider our ways, and to make the precepts of the gospel predominate over the sinful desires of the heart.
But independently of these considerations affecting our prosperity as a people, each one among us has a personal interest in obeying God's holy law. This world, with all its pomps and vanity, must soon pass away from our eyes, and we shall be summoned to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, there to give account of all that we have done in the body.
In that awful hour it will be of no avail to urge any of the plausible excuses with which here we impose upon others and even upon ourselves. Like the guest in the parable without a wedding garment, the impure, the covetous, the cruel, will then be speechless; but now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. Now, then, while it is called to-day, let all of us--for who shall presume to plead innocence before the tribunal of Him who is too pure to behold iniquity--let all of us seek refuge from divine justice, where alone it can be found, and where no sincere inquirer will ever seek it in vain--at the foot of the cross. We have the Saviour's own gracious assurance, that he who cometh unto Him shall not be cast out.
Thus justified by faith in the Son of God, and clothed in his perfect righteousness, we shall welcome him at his second coming in his glorious majesty to judge the world, for the faith that justifies, and which alone deserves the name, will purify the heart, and constrain us to devote our time, our talents, and our property to his service. But if we are con tented with the bare profession of Christianity, if we lay hold of its promises while we reject its sanctifying doctrines, and neglect its precepts, the Master whom we dishonour here, will not acknowledge us hereafter. Then shall we reflect, in anguish and bitterness of soul, on the breach of even the least of God's commandments. Then shall we call to mind, with unavailing self-reproach, the services of God we have neglected, the sabbaths we have profaned, or have suffered to be profaned--the irreligion we have practised ourselves, or have encouraged in others. Then will the veil be drawn aside which conceals from our present view the wrath of an offended Deity; and then will even the meek and merciful Jesus declare to all those who have obeyed not the truth but have obeyed unrighteousness, I never knew you, Depart from me ye that work iniquity.