« PreviousContinue »
a general impulse might be given to the public mind, and a feeling excited, congenial with their own, at once of regret for the spreading mischief, and of solicitude for the proper application of the needful remedies. What these should be, belongs to a future part of the discussion, which I shall not now anticipate. For it is not my intention to confine myself to a single discourse, and that discourse restricted to the one topic of Sabbath profanation. I mean to enter pretty largely, in a series of Sermons, into the general subject of the obligation and observance of the weekly sabbatical rest. It would be preposterous, to go at once to the consideration of the mode of observing the day, till we have satisfactorily ascertained the scriptural authority for observing it at all. This authority I do not wish to assume; because it has been disputed; and because I have never been fully satisfied with the grounds on which the obligation, under the Christian economy, has usually been made to rest. Not that these grounds are either untenable, or insufficient; but that, in my apprehension, there are additional grounds, still stronger and more direct, which, though they have been adverted to by some advocates of the Christian Sabbath, have been overlooked by others, and have by none had that degree of weight attached to them, to which they seem to be entitled.
In saying this, I should wish to be understood as referring both to the obligation of the day, and to the manner of its observance. On both points, it is of essential importance to ascertain scriptural principles. Our rebukes of Sabbath-profanation can come with comparatively feeble power and partial effect upon the conscience, when
we have left unsettled questions and unsatisfied doubts and surmises in the mind, with regard to the obligation of observance :--and even when we may be supposed to have settled the obligation on sufficient grounds ; we may find it exceedingly difficult to draw a correct line between observance and profanation in various departments of our admonitions to duty and cautions against sin,—and shall be in danger of leaving, on the one hand, sources of superstitious and gloomy fearfulness, and, on the other, jesuitical excuses for laxity of disposition, and convenient outlets for consciences that are beset by worldly temptations, unless we can, either from direct precepts or from approved examples, establish some general principle or principles, capable of extensive and easy application to particular cases.'
It is a point of fact disputed by none, that the seventhday Sabbath was observed by the Jewish people, under the ancient economy; and by none who believe that economy to have been divine is it doubted, that amongst them it was not a self-authorized celebration, but an institute of Jehovah. . One great question, therefore, isWas it peculiar to that people, or was it, in its origin and obligation, common to mankind ? Did the observance commence with the divine legation of Moses, or did it conmence at the time referred to in our text? Did the obligation terminate with the Mosaic economy, or did it remain in force under the Christian ? And, if we should ascertain it to have begun at creation, and to have continued under Christianity, what authority have we for observing, as our sabbatical rest, the first day of the week, instead of the seventh? These are questions, to which a satisfactory answer is indispensable, before we proceed to the subsequent inquiry, “How is the Sabbath to be sanctified ?” that we may be properly assured in our own minds, whether, in keeping sacred the first day of the week, we are really doing the will of God, or whether we are performing an act of mere will-worship, and, without the sanction of his authority, retaining a part of the yoke of bondage, the burdensome ritual of an abolished dispensation.
When I ask the question, Was the Sabbath a merely Jewish Institution, or was it a moral duty of universal and permanent obligation ?—some of my hearers may naturally enough be startled at the inquiry, and think it a very strange one. “ A merely Jewish Institution !” they will say—“how can that be? who can possibly entertain such a fancy, when, in the words which you have just read as the ground of your discourse, we have so simple and explicit a statement of the day having been divinely set apart at the time of the creation of the world ?” For the surprise which might thus be expressed, there exists, in my judgment, very good reason. The conclusion drawn from the language of the text-(if that may be called a conclusion from it, which is rather its direct and explicit declaration)—is the conclusion, not of ignorance or inconsideration, but, in spite of the high authority I am about to cite to the contrary, that of sound understanding and common
To those of my hearers in whose minds the text has appeared, as well it might, decisive of the question, it is necessary to mention, that in the opinion of some writers, later and more remote, and especially of one scripture moralist, whose judgment is, in many respects, entitled to deference, the seventh day was not set apart for sacred observance at the time of the creation ;-that there was no such divine institute till the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, two thousand five hundred
afterwards; and that the historian, himself an Israelite, in giving the inspired account of the creation, takes notice of the Sabbath only incidentally and by anticipation, that account, with which the institution was subsequently associated, having naturally enough suggested it to his mind ! - This is the opinion of the justly celebrated Dr. Paley.* “ As the seventh day,” says he, “was erected into a sabbath on account of God's resting upon that day from the work of creation ; it was natural enough in the historian, when he had related the history of the creation and of God's ceasing from it on the seventh day, to add, · And God blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it, because that on it he had rested from all his work which the Lord God created and made,'-although the blessing and sanctification, i. e. the religious distinction and appropriation of the day, was not actually made for many ages afterwards. The words do not assert that God then blessed and sanctified the seventh day, but that he blessed and sanctified it for that reason : and if any ask why the Sabbath or sanctification of the seventh day was then mentioned, if it was not then appointed, the answer is at hand; the order of connexion, not of time, introduced the men
* I select Dr. Paley, not only on account of his deserved eminence as a writer, in the theological and moral literature of our country, but because, on this as on other subjects, he brings his argument into short compass, and states it with brevity and precision. Whether he convinces you or not, he never leaves you at a loss to understand him.
tion of the Sabbath in the history of the subject which it was ordained to commemorate.”*
Here, then, is the point to the settlement of which our attention must, in the first instance, be directed ;-namely, whether or not the seventh day was actually set apart as a day of religious rest at the time when it is first mentioned, in immediate connexion with the finishing of the work of creation. This, according to Dr. Paley's own admission, is the turning point of the controversy respecting the universality and perpetuity of the obligation. It is fully granted by this eminent writer, that if the Sabbath was instituted immediately after the creation, it must be regarded as a command given to the progenitors of our race, and so obligatory on all the race alike, in all succeeding generations, - If the divine command (such are the terms of his admission) “ was actually delivered at the creation, it was addressed, no doubt, to the whole human species alike, and continues, unless repealed by some subsequent revelation, binding upon all who come to the knowledge of it. If the command was published for the first time in the wilderness, then it was directed to the Jewish people alone ; and something farther, either in the subject or circumstances of the command, will be necessary to show that it was designed for any other." “ The former opinion precludes all debate about the extent of the obligation : the latter admits, and, prima facie, induces a belief, that the sabbath ought to be considered as part of the peculiar law of the Jewish policy.”
* Paley's Moral and Political l’hilosophy, Sect. on Sabbatical Institutions.