Disregard Of The Christian Sabbath
( Originally Published 1902 )
REV. RICHARD HIORNS relates the following well-authenticated incident of Queen Victoria's regard for the Sabbath :
" Among all the good traits of ` The Good Queen of England,' I think the decided stand she took at the very beginning of her reign for the strict observance of the Sabbath reflects great credit on her, especially when we remember what was the low state of morals in court circles at the time of her accession. Early in her reign, one Saturday night, the Prime Minister arrived at Windsor and sent an urgent request to her Majesty for an audience as early as possible on Sunday morning on ` important state business.' The Queen sent her regrets that she could not see him that night, as she had already retired, but said she hoped to see him at the eleven o'clock service in St. George's Chapel, and would like the pleasure of his company to luncheon afterward. Early Sunday morning she sent a message to the preacher of the morning, requesting him to preach ` a good, strong sermon on the necessity for Sabbath observance.' The Cabinet minister went to church. Her Majesty was there, and at the close of the service they met. During the lunch she asked his opinion of the sermon. He had not much to say about it. Later, his lordship was invited to dine with the Queen. Nothing whatever was said of the ` very urgent business.' When bidding him good-night, her Majesty said: `I can give your lordship an audience as early to-morrow morning as you please. What hour shall it be—five or six o'clock ?' ` Oh, thank your Majesty, but I would not think of disturbing you at such an unseemly hour. Nine o'clock will do.' That was the last time that Queen Victoria was requested to attend to `important state affairs' on Sunday."
The growing disregard of the Christian Sabbath should alarm good people. This disregard is noticed not only in unbelievers, but in too many of those who profess to be followers of Christ. The line used to be drawn by the Christian at blacking the shoes, shaving, or taking a ride on Sunday, but now the member of the church with a respectable standing will spend the morning with his Sunday newspaper, instead of attending church; will have his Sunday afternoon amusement instead of visiting the sick, and will wind up the day in social entertainment of one kind or another at his house or at the house of a friend; and he will have little or no compunction of conscience on the subject, justifying himself with the excuse that, being shut up to business all the week, he must have some time for recreation. There are many who take an early train or boat for some resort in the mountains or by the sea, and spend the livelong day in mirth or sport or dissipation; and the apology which is made for them, in and out of the pulpit, that they can see God in the mountain and ocean and winding stream, is a huge joke, for God is the very Being that they are making their excursion to escape, if we except the god that may conceal himself in the billiard ball, the deck of cards, the dancing floor, the questionable amusement or the beer mug. Many who get on their wheels, and excuse themselves to their conscience with the thought that they are going to see God in the flowers and fields and groves and singing birds, start in the opposite direction from God, and each hour carries them farther away from the church, the Sunday School, the prayer meeting and Christian duty, and not a few at the close of the Lord's day find themselves, like the Prodigal, " in a far-off country." The more wealthy, who give up so much of the day to out-of-door sports, with the excuse that they are innocent and healthful, know, deep down in their better self, that as a means of grace their recreation is far from being a success, and that the substitution of the modern gentlemen's sport for the simple, sincere faith of their fathers, is drying up the fountains of spiritual life and joy. The entertainments given on Sunday night by what are called the best families are not only rivals, but positive enemies, of the services of the Christian Church. In a conversation with Senator Chauncey M. Depew on this subject one day, he said to me:
" The very rich are being weaned away from attendance upon the church and loyalty to it by the growing custom of making Sunday a day of social enjoyment. Riding, driving, big dinners, gay circles of invited guests are supplanting the church in the affections of the extremely rich. Some of the families of the very rich are constant in their attendance on all the services of the church, parents and children being intensely loyal to all its interests ; but a larger number are letting the religious go for the social. It is the old story of the camel and the eye of the needle."
Calling at the parsonage of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, of New York, I commended the late Dr. John Hall for a sermon he had preached on " The Social Dangers of High Life," and he said to me:
" There is a growing disposition among the wealthy to spend Sunday in riding, driving, giving parties, and other entertainments which are unfriendly to the church. It not only keeps the members of the family away from religious duty, but large numbers of male and female servants, who are made to desecrate the Lord's day to pander to their masters' folly and sin. Back of my house are a number of livery stables. The other day I went over to see if I could not persuade some of the stablemen and drivers to attend my church. They said, ` No, the demands on us are so great we can have no time for church.' "
The fact that dissipation has come to be so much a part of Sabbath desecration has led the law-breaking saloon-keepers to persist more in breaking the Sunday law than any other, because they claim that it is their best day in the week—equal to almost any other two days.
Unless there shall be some check or reform in their habit of Sabbath desecration, our Sunday laws will be gradually so modified that the doors of shops, offices, stores, mills and other places of employment will be thrown wide open in answer to the demand of avarice, which is always crying, "Give me more," and the workingmen will find themselves slaves, sure enough, with seven days' work and possibly six days' pay. And the men of wealth will find themselves in a country, where lawlessness will give very poor protection to their property or themselves. If the moral phase of the question were left out, and the economic one only considered, it would be to the interest of both capital and labor to insist upon the maintenance of the Christian Sabbath. But there is a moral and religious side of the question which Christians, even, too often overlook and too readily yield. Sunday laws are civil, to be sure, in every land and clime, and yet the Anglo-Saxon has put them in his code chiefly because he thinks they are in obedience to one of the Ten Commandments, and has cherished them because he believes the All Father desires to have one day kept for himself. It is neither the wise nor fair thing to take the results of the Anglo-Saxon civilization, and then divorce ourselves from the central idea which has most made that civilization—that of loyalty to Almighty God.
The late President McKinley and President Roosevelt have set good examples to the people in their regular attendance upon church services, and in their careful recognition of the sanctity of the Lord's day. It would be well for the world if the people generally were to entertain the views and adopt the habits of Queen Victoria and Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt on the question of Sabbath observance.