The New Sunday
SUNDAY in America has been chiefly the Sunday of England in the seventeenth century transferred by the early colonists to the New World. It has always had the sombre tone of the period coeval with Cromwell and the Puritans. Though colonists came from Europe quite as freely as from England, and brought in the rough their religious institutions with them, the Puritan type of thought was stronger than the Anglican or Roman type, and gradually imparted its color and tone to the life of the whole country. The intellectual force lay in the minds of the Puritan gentry who founded Harvard and Yale, and the severe type of religious thought characterizing these noble ancestors of a great people had in it that element of leadership which gave it precedence everywhere. The strong hands that nearly choked the English church were not less powerful in a country where they could shape institutions at their will ; and in communities where the rough natural industries which precede civilization had the first place in men’s thoughts, the dominant ideas of English Puritanism took deeper root and had a more positive influence than they could possibly have had in English life. The nation, in its political development, is greatly indebted to the positive
force of these ideas; in the state they met with a counteracting element which modified and broadened them to the needs of the whole country. In the spiritual realm it was not so. There was nothing to counteract Puritanism in religion. The grim colonists were never willing to hear the other side. The Quakers and Baptists, dissenters like themselves, were not allowed to have their say ; nor the Anglican Christians from whom they sprang. The narrowness of Puritanism on its religious side is like the narrowness of Scotch Presbyterianism to-day, — the narrowness of the fanatic, the unwillingness to entertain the thought of another; and this narrowness has been transmitted in the Puritan Sunday. What it was in England may be learned from the Rev. John Murray’s description of the way the day was kept in his own home when he was a boy, — the Calvinistic home of a Church of England family, at the middle of the eighteenth century ; “ Sunday was a day much to be dreaded in our family. We were all awakened at early dawn, private devotions attended, breakfast hastily dismissed, shutters closed, no light but from the hack part of the house ; no noise could bring any part of the family to the window; not a syllable was uttered upon secular affairs. Every one who could read, children and domestics, had their allotted chapters. Family prayer succeeded, after which Baxter’s Saint’s Everlasting Rest was assigned to me, my mother all the time in terror lest the children should be an interruption. At last the bell summoned us to church, whither in solemn order we proceeded; I close to my father, who admonished me to look straight forward, and not let my eyes wander after vanity. At church I was fixed at his elbow, compelled to kneel when he kneeled, stand when he stood, to find the Psalm, Epistle, Gospel, and Collects for the day, and any instance of inattention was vigilantly marked, and unrelentingly punished. When I returned from church, I was ordered to my closet; and when I came forth, the chapter from which the preacher had taken his text was read, and I was then questioned respecting the sermon, a part of which I could generally repeat. Dinner, as breakfast, was taken in silent haste, after which we were not suffered to walk, even in the garden, but every one must either read, or hear reading, until the bell gave the signal for afternoon service ; from which we returned to private devotion, to reading, to catechizing, to examination, and long family prayer, which closed the most laborious day of the week.”1 An instance of the way in which the “ lord brethren ” ruled when they had the authority of the “ lord bishops,” as William Blackstone called them, is given in the following draught of a law intended by John Cotton, the minister who emigrated from Boston, in Lincolnshire, for the colony of Massachusetts : “ Whoever shall profane the Lord’s day by doing unnecessary work, by unnecessary traveling, or by sports and recreations, he or they who so transgress shall forfeit forty shillings or be publicly whipped; but if it shall appear to have been done presumptuously, such person or persons shall be put to death, or otherwise severely punished, at the discretion of the court.” These extracts indicate sufficiently the severity of the Puritan Sunday when the Puritans had things their own way. What was an act of voluntary religion in England was here enforced, not at the point of the bayonet, but at the instance of a court, in which the power of life or death was at the mercy of a narrow and sensitive conscience.
It is necessary to go back to this excessive Sabbatarianism in order to explain the present reaction in the observance of Sunday, and to indicate the importance and true position of the day in our present life. The protest against the Puritan Sunday is now universal ; even the recent Sabbath Essays — a volume as candid and honest as has ever come from the descendants of the Puritans, intended to bring back the Lord’s day to its rightful place in the religious institutions of a great people — has had hardly a feather’s weight upon current opinion. We are borne to-day upon a tide of popular sentiment which is restless at the least interference with the principle of “do as you please” on Sunday. Public opinion is in a state of surge and unrest for which there is no precedent in our history. The old Puritan power has gone ; the old Sunday laws are a dead letter; the ancient people no longer carry weight in church or state; the uncurbed sentiment of a wild democracy in religion dictates the Sunday observance for the coming generation ; and we are, as it were, at the meeting of diverse currents, where no “church of the essentials ” has yet acquired sufficient influence to take the leadership of public opinion, as in England, and where the state silently consents to the ignoring of existing law. The extreme of reaction from the unreasonable and uncompromising asceticism of the Puritan Sunday has not, probably, yet been reached, but the temper of the people is to throw off all allegiance to it.
A great variety of agencies have come to lay claim to Sunday. The change in modern society since the middle of the seventeenth century is not greater in the range of morals than in the domain of practical science. The laws neither of morals nor of science are different from what they have always been, but their expression and application have created a new world in life and thought. The Sunday laws are obsolete, because modern society has gone outside of their range. They were intended at the time of their adoption to forward the interests of Christianity, but their rigorous enforcement to-day would put new burdens upon the laboring classes and thwart the best interests of society. They are the relic of that union of church and state which, since the days of Constantine, has caused Christianity to depend upon secular aid for its support, and has been the source of its chief corruptions. The prevailing theory of religion has been that it could not maintain itself without state support. This was the view of the Puritans, with whom, as with the people from whom they sprang, church and state were almost convertible terms ; or, rather, the state was simply the secular arm of spiritual power. This idea has colored American legislation with reference to Sunday to the extent that in South Carolina and Vermont, to go no further, attendance upon religious worship on that day is still compulsory ; 2 and even where there is no compulsion, the opinion of the most influential religionists has so largely controlled the social usage that church-going has been strictly regarded as a mark of respectability. It was assumed that everybody must engage in certain definite acts of worship on Sunday, and the authority of the assumption was unquestioned. It was the
secular authority behind social usage. This gave great leverage to outward Christianity, when it was not considered decent to stay away from religious services ; and this old tradition of duty, the Puritan church directing the New England state, if it no longer has the secular power of compulsion, is still expressed in the clerical attitude toward the community at large. It is implied that the attendance upon religious services and the listening to sermons are the principal duties of man on Sunday. Preaching has been the chief act of Puritan worship, and the Sunday services are still controlled by the idea that everybody must “ go to meeting.” It is as if every voter in the commonwealth were a church member, and the church had a personal claim on him. This fiction is now passing away, but, quite naturally, the clergy are slow to see that they have no monopoly of Sunday outside of the people they can call their own. The last act has at length been reached in the tragedy of superstition which for fifteen centuries, under the dream of a Christian state, has induced the leaders of Christianity to depend upon the support of secular authority, when their true strength was in the changed minds and hearts of consecrated people. A strong writer has said,3 “ The greatest triumphs and best days of the gospel were when the states were all heathen. Christian ‘ virtue gives herself light through darkness for to wade,’and can hold her own candle better than the state can hold it for her.” This is the point to which Christian civilization has now come in this country; this is the upshot of the movement for the taxation of church property. It is the return of the Christian church, after all the centuries of its abasement at the feet of secular power, to the old principle of spiritual direction by which the gospel of Christ first conquered the world. The sooner the conviction is reached through the length and breadth of the American States that Christianity demands protection only to the extent that its adherents shall not be disturbed in the enjoyment of their rights as the children of God, the stronger will the Christian religion be in the hearts of its disciples and in the respect of an agnostic world.
It has been assumed, to go into particulars, that the New England Sabbath, kept with the rigor which led John Murray to become the chief apostle of Universalism, was a correct interpretation of the Christian use of the Lord’s day ; but any reader of Dr. Hessey’s Bampton Lectures on Sunday, or of the articles on this subject in the best critical dictionaries, is aware that the Puritan Sabbath was a compound of two views which had authority in the early church. One was the transmission of the Jewish Sabbath as a preparation for the Christian festival called the Lord’s day; the other was the gradual growth in the Christian family of the observance of the day of our Lord’s resurrection as a distinctly Christian festival.
In process of time the mediæval church gave to Friday the character of a fast day, and the Sabbath of the Jewish Christians passed away ; then, as by an irresistible attraction, the Lord’s day drew to itself the periodical rest “ enjoined in the fourth commandment on grounds applicable to man as man,” and “ provided for under the Mosaic law by she special observance of the Sabbath.” Lhe two days were always distinct in the early church, but in the event the Lord s day won the first place, and its observance was controlled by the principle that the Sunday rest was simply a means to a higher end. “ The tendency to sabbatize the Lord’s day,” says Canon Barry, “ is due chiefly to the necessities of legal enforcement: first, as exemplified in the series of imperial laws; then, in the decrees of councils, generally backed by secular power, — dealing inevitably in prohibition more than injunction, and so tending to emphasize negative instead of positive observance. For such enactments the law of the Old Testament, mutatis mutandis, became naturally a model, and the step was an easy one from regarding it as a model to taking it as an authority. 1 he direct connection, however, of such observance with the obligation of the fourth commandment can claim no scriptural and no high ecclesiastical authority.” 4 The Lord’s day is coeval with the existence of Christianity, and grew naturally from the Apostles’ time to be the weekly festival of those who rejoiced in the resurrection of their Master; but when the Sabbatarian views of Dr. Bownd were adopted by the ascetic school of religionists belonging to the Reformation period, the precursors of the Puritans regarded the day from only one point of view, and employed all the power at their command to enforce its sharp observance after the Sabbatarian fashion. This is the explanation of the Puritan Sunday. It is the fruit of opinions which have never had sway in historical Christianity, and were not formulated before the sixteenth century. The reaction from these ascetic opinions, even if it carries people temporarily away from the religious uses of the Lord’s day, is not to be summarily condemned. The swing of the pendulum is not more exact in social than in physical science, and while the Christian uses of Sunday — the uses which accord with common sense, the uses which enlist all good citizens in its maintenance — are still vague and undefined, awaiting social, sanitary, and religious definition, it is no time to dogmatize.
The constructive view of Sunday is that which now most demands careful consideration. It is par excellence a day of rest. The Sunday laws of the whole country agree to this, and their retention upon the statute book, even if they are seldom enforced, so far from tending to immorality, is one of those justifiable exceptions which is best described as the reserve power of legislation. They can be drawn out, like the heavy artillery, whenever soulless corporations attempt to snatch the day of rest from the great army of the working classes ; they are a wholesome check upon the tendency, everywhere manifest among the non-producing population, to lead people astray by encouraging their vicious appetites; they are the ethical atmosphere of the state, no longer enforcing the dictates of one sort of religion, but still insuring the liberty of all citizens, and protecting each man in his rights from the impositions of his neighbor ; they are silent for their old purposes of compelling people to put ou the outward garb of religion, but not silent when the immorality of some on the avarice of others attempts to work injustice to any ; they hold the key to the day of rest, and render possible the Sunday which is required by modern society.
The day has been regarded, heretofore, so exclusively from its religious side that important social and sanitary conditions have been quite overlooked. It still remains the fact that “ the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The foremost point is that it shall continue to be a day of rest. This alone furnishes the opportunity for its higher uses. But it can never again be a day of rest in the old Puritan sense, nor can it be regarded by all sorts of people as God’s time in a special sense. Modern society in our great centres is so constituted that Sunday is the only day when rest, recreation, and education can be generally attended to; and the wider and deeper interests of human life,
as they are now understood, demand that the day shall be used for a great variety of purposes, which more or less entail labor upon the few. The claims of daily toil upon nine tenths of our population are imperative and exhausting. If one is to earn his bread he must work for it from Monday morning till Saturday night. It is not only constant work, but work under conditions which are unfavorable to health, such as bad air, physical strain, mental wear and tear, all of which exhaust one’s vitality and furnish no opportunity for physical renewal or general culture. Sunday is the only day in the week when the overtasked laborer can sleep over, when he has the sense of being master of his own household, when he can think leisurely of his relations to God and man. It is the only day for whatever lifts his intellectual and moral being to a higher plane. If he misses its beneficent rest and recreation, he soon breaks down, like the French artisans, and " lights his own funeral pyre ; ” if he ignores the reading or social intercourse which turns his thoughts into new channels, the unused portions of his life run to waste ; if he attends no religious services and gives no emphasis to spiritual things, he loses the moral atmosphere in which one is spiritually renewed from day to day. The provision of rest, sound, true, invigorating rest, no matter what form it may take, so that it be wholesome, is at the basis of sound morality. Too little attention has been paid to the fact that immorality and crime usually proceed from a low vitality. It is the sound body that furnishes the sane mind and the strong heart. The use of Sunday for sanitary purposes, its use simply for physical renewal, has been largely lost sight of by a class of moralists who have imagined that religious exercises were the chief thing needful for a weary race ; but more important than anything else in this crowded life of the nineteenth century is the use of Sunday in its broadest and best sense as the day for recruiting the energies which converge to bread-winning and give a larger meaning to one’s life. Beyond and above everything which sanctions Sunday as the Lord’s day, the periodic rest is marked out as the great natural law by which the forces of life are to be conserved to the best results. Men have never as now demanded this rest. The men who carry the burdens of the world’s great industries, the men who go from counting-rooms to homes with their heads aching, the men who have to work intensely as the only condition of working at all, are quite as much to be considered as those who do not carry to their pillows a thousand anxieties. God has always provided rest for men in the natural order, and whenever they work seven days in the week they pay the penalty. The tender point is the unwillingness of some to concede that each one shall have the rest which he thinks that he needs. The restraint of social usage points to church-going, but the weary seamstress, the exhausted clerk, the devitalized mechanic, the artisans of every class, not less than the tired brain-workers, need perhaps something just the reverse. Some need sleep; some, sunshine ; some, domestic cheer ; some, an awakening book: some, the patch of fresh grass or the forest ramble ; some, the inspiration of friends; some, the quiet of prayer ; some, the words of the spiritual teacher ; some, the great sacrament of spiritual refreshment. This large liberty is granted by the state, and is practically taken by its citizens ; but the friends of Christianity, appreciating what sweetness and light Christ puts into life, have hardly yet recognized what a sad, weary world we live in ; how much the religious life depends upon the vitality of the people, or how closely sanity of mind and soul is connected with a healthy and restful body. The liberty to rest as each one thinks best on Sunday, and thereby not to cease to be respectable, is slowly gaining ground with good people, and all true advance into the higher uses of Sunday is based upon this concession on the part of those controlling the institutions which are the bulwarks of the Christian faith.
Questions now rise which public opinion gradually settles for itself. These cover the way in which the hours of Sunday are to be used. Mr. James Parton would add to the ten commandments the new law of modern life. “ Thou shalt not waste.” There has been no greater waste in the world than the waste of Sunday time. Who among grown - up people does not recall the Sundays of his youth as blank and wasted days ? And yet, if the higher uses of Sunday had been understood, as we are trying to understand them now, what might not fifty-two days of inspiration have brought into present experience and culture ! It was compulsory then for children to attend religious services in which it was difficult for them to be interested, and to read pious books which were not intended for them; and the thousand things which God in Christ and God in earth and sky had placed before their very eyes were unseen, because superstition ruled the Sunday observance. Slowly have reasonable people broken away from these unreasonable exactions and begun to use Sunday in a way to bring to themselves and others the richest blessings. The chief point to be kept in view for Sunday is to use the day for what will most increase one’s sense of the meaning and joy and glory of living. It is a personal matter with each one, and beyond personal persuasion, each one is at liberty to use the hours of Sunday according to the dictates of his own good sense. It will be said that this principle opens the flood-gate of evil, that —
but there is no reason why people who are partially deprived of their free action by the necessities of labor should not have the full enjoyment of freedom when off duty, if their liberty does not interfere with the liberties of others. It is on this basis that whatever tends to build people up, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, should, within practicable limits, be permitted on what has been for nearly nineteen centuries the great and almost the only fixed day of leisure in the Christian world. This principle cannot be narrowed without infringing upon personal liberty, and, rightly interpreted, it does not lead to the immoral use of Sunday. Such, in fact, is the tone and temper of the public mind, in respect to good morals, that no wanton abuse of Sunday will long be tolerated in any Christian community. The running of horse-cars on Sunday has come to be a public necessity in the great cities ; the Sunday excursions into the suburbs are almost a necessity to the working-classes ; people cannot stand up to their daily burdens without these recreations. Then the opening of the public libraries, the museums, the art galleries, the state and national institutions for popular education, must be regarded by fair-minded persons as one of the best uses to which Sunday can be put. This meets an intellectual necessity, as the increased facilities for Sunday recreation in the open air meet a physical necessity. It may not be what the church-going people need, but, so long as more than half of the population does not attend Sunday services, the use of Sunday for popular education is simply a question of what is next best. The civilized world has never been Christian to the extent that might be wished for, and Christian common sense dictates the use of Sunday for the best ends of popular improvement and culture, if it is not to be employed in the ways which seem best to Christian people. It is the only day, as things stand, for the higher education of the human race, Christian and other, — the only day when the broadest and deepest interests of human life can be impartially considered. There is no reason why Sunday should not be used for the benefit of people of whom more can be made. The Sunday-school has been used to teach nearly everything except the exact sciences ; and for thousands who are soon to be free citizens of the commonwealth, religious instruction must be preceded by a large amount of what is best termed general secular teaching, as the only human condition of permanent religious improvement. The increase of every facility for instruction and culture which does not involve the full week-day strain for teachers or taught, — the reading of good books, the gathering of classes of young men and women for instruction in points where their directive education has beeu neglected, the Sunday lecture, the sacred concert, — is closely connected with the larger and better use of Sunday upon which we seem to be entering. It is possible that even the theatre, in process of time, may become a legitimate species of Sunday-evening recreation. One dare not say that this great variety of instruction shall not be or that it is a desecration of the Lord’s day. It is simply the recognition of the fact that this is a large world, and that there are all sorts of people in it.
The reason why the uses of Sunday which are here named, and from which we are not likely to escape, seem so abhorrent to many excellent people is that the Puritans separated religion from social life. The rigid observance of Sunday has been aptly called the “ Puritan sacrament.” A violent hand was laid upon such uses of the day as belong of necessity to well-ordered living. The immorality which more and more seems to be creeping up into influence in all our New England towns is the result of the undue strictness of social life, or rather its sharp separation from the cheer and sunshine of Christ’s blessing, which grew out of the Puritan Sunday Dr. Arnold fought for nothing else at Rugby as he fought for the union of religion with secular interests, and this is the reason why men like Maurice and Kingsley and Hughes have carried the healthiest influence into English society. The separation of Christianity from the great interests of daily life has been one of the marked deficiencies in our evangelical religion for more than two centuries, and even the Unitarian protest has not saved the present generation from its terrible results. It has been believed that if a person had reached certain convictions of Christian belief he had attained the most important end of life, but the line of demarkation between Christian duty and the demands of social life has been as wide as the gulf between the rich man and Lazarus, in the parable. This view of religious duty has created a type of family life ou Sunday which has left its indelible mark upon modern society, and perhaps contributed more than anything else to the drift of the hour. Nothing in religious poetry is more touching than Robert Burns’s Cotter’s Saturday Night, where the holy instincts of consecrated ties swell out into the broad and genial family life ; nothing has kept young people bred amid our New England hills truer to the “ kindred points of heaven and home” than the remembrance of such scenes in their own childhood. It was religion inspiring and guiding social life. But in the revolt from too much dogma and too little ethics, people are in danger of losing what makes our homes not simply castles of defense, but centres of inspiration and of power. The neglect of family social life, the absence of parents from the reunions of young people, the seeking of the bride away from the family fireside, the too religious use of Sunday by some, and its too secular use by others, has wrought untold mischief in the lives of the present generation. Here is the root of the demoralization of the young, and here is indicated a use for Sunday which in every home ought not to be second to any other. If a wholesome Christian influence is ever to pervade modern society, it must proceed from the Christian family. The church is nothing but the aggregate of these homes made one in Christ. The restive life of these times needs repose; the very children need the soothing atmosphere of home ; this is the only place in the wide world where men can lay down their weary heads and take rest; and it is out of these homes that the regeneration of society is to come, — out of the uses to which Sunday is put, when father and mother and children meet together and are at leisure under the same roof. The Sunday service may point the moral, but the problem is to be worked out by sensitive minds and hearts within the four walls of home.
The uses of Sunday already named, sanitary, recreative, educational, social, important as they must be conceded to be, have their complement in the religious use of the day. While Sunday has been found to be invaluable for all the deeper and wider interests of society, the great day of renewal for this restless modern world, no wise person can wish to di minish its religious significance. Indeed, all the uses mentioned are preparatory or complementary to the religious use. Life is humdrum, unless its vitality springs from a spiritual source; our existence loses its best inspiration and direction if the personal God is not felt to be in close relation with each personal life. Men need renewal at a source outside of themselves. Sunday is the means by which this higher existence is vitalized and renewed. It gives time for religious devotion and instruction, and people who love God and believe in righteousness find their joy and refreshment in such worship as recognizes God’s influence and power in the direction of their lives. This is the substance of the religious observance of Sunday.
The day has been too much used for these religious purposes, and it is in danger of being too little used. Religious people are as apt as any other class to see only one side of the uses of the day. The clergy, trained in dogmatic theology, not subjected to the great strain which the best people of all classes, the people who make up their congregations, undergo in actual life, naturally intent on outward results, and often forgetful of the fact that “ the kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” are in danger of taking too much of the people’s day of rest for the public worship. The growing and wise tendency is to shorten Sunday services and to make the hours spent in church less wearisome than they formerly were. The great need is to brighten Sunday both at church and at home. The morning service, or at least one service a day, is now all that can be successfully maintained. The church of the future will have thoroughly to revise its methods if it is to retain its hold upon our active population. The places are all too few where the ethical spirit of Christianity is made commensurate with the increasing breadth of life, where the range of teaching comes down to the real issues of the life that men are leading. Our religious services are still too much based upon what seemed best for people two or three centuries ago. They are hardly better suited to the needs of modern life than the old Sunday laws of New England. They lack a fine sympathetic instiuct of our present spiritual needs. They are too informal, too earthly, on the one hand, so that they lack in reverence, character, power ; they are too formal, too restricted, too stiffly liturgical, too much set in one mould, and that not always the best, so that they fail to touch the popular sympathies, on the other. The decline in church-going is due to many causes, but it is largely due to the fact that people are not interested. To say nothing of prayers which are im-
mensely below the occasion, the preaching of many clergymen debauches — if it does not madden — one’s religious instincts. The preachers amuse and entertain where it is their privilege to instruct the mind and guide the soul. The conduct of Sunday services, both in the worship and in the preaching, does not seem to be set about with that constructive purpose, that aim at legitimate and definite results, which is sure to bring success in secular channels, and Christianity is too often incarnated in the words of a creed narrower than the life which it seeks to fashion and control. The clergy would gain greatly in making religious services restful, helpful, attractive, inspiring, if they could better interpret the reasons for the ethical detachment of those who do not attend them. Short devotional services and bright, helpful, soul-stirring music are essentials in the church of the future, quite as much as short, sympathetic sermons, in which the ethical convictions that grow out of one’s experience of life are returned to the people in the shape of positive Christian beliefs. Then, as a pendant to the religious services of the day, comes the observance of Sunday at home, and in the family. The zeal of religionists for God’s house has caused many parents to make Sunday an undesirable day for their children, and the choicest hours for the joyous intercourse of both, whether the purpose be religious or simply personal and social, have been squandered upon a theory of Sunday observance. The Sunday - school can never take the place of the Christian family ; one word of guidance, one smile of approval, from a parent, is worth a dozen from the best of these outside teachers who gather our children into classes. The Sunday at home is the natural adjunct of the Sunday at church, and the healthiest religious influence that can go forth into young lives is that which comes from the hearty and genial intercourse between parents and children on Sunday afternoon or evening at home. The habit of evening services not less than that of social visiting interferes with what is both a privilege and a duty in a Christian household ; and, while neither may be disallowed, it becomes those who would put higher inspiration into life to take the utmost care in the guiding of young hearts, that religion shall cease to he a duty and become a pleasure.
It is difficult to say the word that exactly fits the condition of those who have grown out of their early homes, and yet have no homes of their own. The giving up of church-going for this class is a social, if not a religious, mistake. It is apt to lower the ethical standards at a vital point. One loses more than he thinks, and it is not until the loss is irreparable that its import to one’s life is fairly understood. The ethical value of Sunday worship and instruction is perhaps greater to those who are living apart from home ties and feel the force of all the divergent influences around them than to any one else, and the value often seems least at the moment of its greatest service. It touches one’s life where the spiritual vitality is weakest and where the struggle for existence or position is sharpest. It awakens latent sympathies, and helps to place lonely and isolated persons where they belong. Sooner or later these people without homes find themselves in the sphere of social and religious activity, and while strengthening others are unconsciously strengthened themselves.
It is plain, however, that worship and instruction through religious services, if the highest and most personal, are not the only influences which are to renew and uplift life on Sundays. The religious press has for many generations been looked upon as the adjunct of the pulpit. The religious newspapers have been specially intended for Sunday reading, and have rendered important service in broadening the uses of the day, but
at the same time they have not been free from a hurtful tendency. They have emphasized the divergences of opinion between different denominations, and have been a chief agent in keeping Christians apart and in setting religious leaders in battle array, the one against the other. The narrowness of the distinctly religious press, on the one hand, and the demand of people not attracted to Sunday services or detained from them for the freer handling of ethical and religious subjects, on the other, has brought into prominence the Sunday daily paper. It is a noticeable fact that the movements of the religious world have for some time, and never more intelligently than now, been brought within the sphere of editorial comment in the press. It is one of the marks of religious advance. It is but a step from the daily to the Sunday treatment of social and religious matters, and the change has come about almost in response to the unconscious demand of the public. In one sense these Sunday papers are detrimental to church - going. They are likely to keep at home those who would go to church as they would saunter into a field. They furnish a variety of entertainment and instruction with which no religious society can or ought to compete. They occupy a different sphere and serve a different purpose, and the cry of conservative religionists against them is both unreasonable and unjust. It is true that some of these papers are not helpful to one in any religious sense, and that even the best of them cannot do for one’s spiritual life what may be done through the preacher, whose “ words, fitly spoken, are like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” But as the spheres are different, so the uses are different, and there is no reason why the Sunday press may not be an important adjunct of the pulpit; in fact, a sort of lay pulpit, — a platform for the utterance of truths and the discussion of social and ethical questions after a fashion which is demanded by the broadening lines of actual life and does not trench upon the conventional idea of what belongs to the pulpit. The single pulpit reaches five hundred, or at best a thousand people; the Sunday paper speaks to half a million. There is no channel like it for the utterance of words which touch the interests of whole communities, which produce immediate effect, or which sow the seeds of new ethical harvests. The Sunday paper of to-day is just beginning to touch the field of immense possibilities ; the Sunday paper of the future is to be one of the great directive agencies in developing the best tendencies of American Christianity. It has the ears of the multitude ; it is read when people are enough at leisure to think over what it says ; it must always treat questions of ethics and religion on their broadest and best side : it can never simply emphasize the personal convictions of its responsible editor ; and, in the hands of the men whose strong common sense and wise insight into coming directions of life enables them to sit in leading editorial chairs, it is to be one of the chief teaching elements in the church of the future. While meeting all the demands legitimate to a newspaper, it can more and more be the channel through which religious prejudices may be softened, and through which the great moral interests of the community may be effectually served.
It is undeniable that the Sunday press, the increasing use of libraries, and the growing demand for restful Sunday amusements are limiting the old-time scope of the pulpit, but they can never limit the wonderful element of personality by which the ethical direction of the people seems to depend upon those who speak with force and power, as the messengers of God to their fellow-men. Nor can any amount of even the best reading supersede distinctly religious worship. The culture of the heart is as important as the culture of the mind. One of the great present needs of the community is a method of worship in which the spiritual instincts of people shall be awakened and guided. Now and then such services are found in all denominations, — services in which positive excellences outweigh existing defects, services both popular and inspiring ; but the need of better services, more hearty, more reverent, more effective, has compelled the leaders of American Christianity to consider anew the liturgical principles fundamental to religious worship, and has already largely broken up the stiffness which was universal in every denomination a generation ago. This generous adaptation of worship to the present needs of the people, the allowance of a proper development in ritual, — a movement happily proceeding already by wise steps in the quarter where it ought to be seen first,—is one of the things to which religionists of all sorts will have to pay increased attention if they are to continue to lift people from out the anxieties and Wearisomeness of this lower world up to the gates of “ that greatcity, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,” “ the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb the temple of it,” where “ the Lord God giveth them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.”
The Christian church, placed as it stood in the days of the Cæsars, is in the position where its laurels depend upon the consecration and vitality of its members. Secularism, never stronger nor more persistent than now, has encroached largely upon its chief day of worship and instruction, and the interests which once seemed exclusively its own are scattered over the length and the breadth of modern society. Some may be startled at this and say that Christianity is losing its power to control and guide human life; but others, reading more correctly the signs of the times, and penetrating deeper into the currents of human activity, will discover that never in any previous period of Christian history have equal opportunities for serving and guiding men been placed within the reach of the teachers of spiritual truth. The church was never before so identified with the world, so broadened out where the lines of religion and secularity seem to blend into one. The point of danger is always the point of opportunity. The danger is that those in whose hands the Christian church is placed, for our generation, shall still hammer the dead idols of obsolete dogma into new shapes of hideousness, while the souls of millions cry for light and hope along the paths of their present lives. There is no call for the diminution of the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds; the danger is that Christianity shall be too restricted in its applications to the varied interests of life to meet the requirements of American citizens. Great strides must be taken in the direction, not so much of liberality, as of intelligent unity upon the basis of what is essential, before our existing Christianity will be fully adequate to the needs of the people. The trend of the new Sunday is in the direction of a healthier and more persuasive Christianity, not wholly nor immediately what all could wish, but enough to give one hope of
better things in store. The escape from the narrow requirements of an earlier day may for the moment even be the taking of some steps backward. To see social religious changes correctly one must not look at them from a local point, of view alone. The larger view is more correct, and the larger view of the rapid changes now going on in the observance and use of Sunday ranks them as steps in the wide and general education of a free nation in its manysided responsibilities to God and man. The way is in preparation for a larger and more important work than Christianity has yet undertaken among us. The present influence of Sunday is to broaden the Christian conception of the possibilities of ethical life, and to uplift mankind on the physical, social, and intellectual, as truly as upon the moral and spiritual side. It is the part of what may be called Christian sagacity and statesmanship to recognize the facts in the present uses of the Lord’s day for what they mean, and so change the methods in religious worship and instruction that men shall not be without the range of the spiritual renewal of life, and that Christianity shall stand in these days to those who long for light and peace for what it stood in the first days to Peter, James, and John.
Julius H. Ward.
- Records of the Life of the Rev. John Murray, ate Minister of the Reconciliation, and Senior Pastor of the Universal ists Congregated in Boston. Written by Himself. 1827.↩
- Sunday Laws. A paper read before the American Bar Association. By Henry E. Young, of the Charleston Bar. 1880.↩
- Rev. Henry N. Hudson, the Shakespearean scholar.↩
- Article on the Lord’s Day in Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Antiquities.↩