Sunday: A Day for Man

WHEN our ancestors discarded the mediæval hair-shirt as a means for mortifying the flesh, they were careful to create substitutes. These latter provisions were not crudely physical, but they were as subtly oppressive to the spirit of man as were the hair-shirts to his body. To our grandfathers one of these spiritual inflictions was known as Sabbath observance. It consisted of a fixed code of acts permissible, and of offenses not to be tolerated, on the first day of the week.

Sabbath observance as thus practiced may be traced to two sources. First, to an undue emphasis upon the sterner Old Testament teachings, with a consequent stress upon the fourth commandment. To men struggling with the primal needs of life and society the iron virtues of the older sacred literature were more adaptable, ay, even more intelligible, than the Gospel precepts.

In the second place, it may be traced to the fact that in many parts of our land, one hundred years ago, society was nearer in spirit to the social conditions of ancient Israel than to the complexities of modern life. The primitive conditions that prevailed in rural communities in our early history have affected the observance of Sunday. When men worked all day in the fields what was more natural than that they should prefer to spend Sunday indoors with their families; or that they should enjoy discussing the crops with their distant neighbors in the porch of the church ? They wanted on Sundays what they did not get on week-days. Under the stress of naturally religious temperaments these habits became fixed, inexorable, and intolerant of change.

The severity of Sabbath observance under these two influences — for the sternness of the first blighted the natural joyousness of the second — had a distinct and disastrous effect upon the children. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, in The Story of a Bad Boy, — would that all boys were as wholesomely bad, — gives a description of Sunday in the Nutter household at Rivermouth. It was like a shroud. ‘People who were prosperous and natural and happy on Saturday became the most rueful of human beings in the brief space of twelve hours. I don’t think there was any hypocrisy in this. It was merely the old Puritan austerity cropping out once a week. Many of these people were pure Christians every day in the seven — excepting the seventh. Then they were decorous and solemn to the verge of moroseness.’

Dickens, in Little Dorrit, has painted a gloomy pict ure of a child’s Sunday in London. It is somewhat different in detail from the Sunday in New England, but it has the same doleful atmosphere. ‘Everything was bolted and barred that could by possibility furnish relief to an over-worked people. . . . Nothing to see but streets, streets, streets. . . . There was the dreary Sunday of his [Clennam’s] childhood, when he sat with his hands before him, scared out of his senses by a horrible tract which commenced business with the poor child by asking him in its title, why he was going to perdition? — a piece of curiosity that he really in a frock and drawers was not in a condition to satisfy — and which, for the further attraction of his infant mind, had a parenthesis in every other line with some such hiccoughing reference as 2 Ep. Thess. c. iii, v. 6 and 7.’

The children were oppressed; and the revolt has followed. With it has come a new world and a new type of men. Sabbath observance, in the old sense, is gone in our land. With it have gone much wholesome restraint and many beneficial practices. Our modern Sunday is a chaos. Under the cloak of privilege many evils are rampant, and under the guise of principle many natural liberties are denounced. The battle is on. The Church, the guardian of Sunday, has a problem exceedingly complex and intensely modern.

Its complexity is not unique. It is a condition which surrounds all problems of morality, the distresses of society, and the failures of our civilization. It arises from the intricate machinery of industrialism and our highly organized social forms.

Is the Church losing the battle? To all outward appearances, yes. In reality it has not yet done more than skirmish. But the skirmish has startled men by the suddenness with which it has revealed the inadequacy of the weapons with which the Church hoped to crush the adversary. A great light is dawning.

The first duty of the Church in the discharge of its guardianship of Sunday is to make absolutely clear to itself and to others what the Church intends to uphold. If it plans to restore that ancient austerity known as Sabbath observance, then it must first undertake the easier task of restoring the hand-loom and the stage-coach.

If, on the other hand, its task is to create or arouse an appreciation of all those elements of wholesome living, for the upbuilding and enjoying of which Sunday becomes the opportunity, then it must reckon no part of that task too arduous.

To formulate any valid principles for action we must free the mind from faulty or irrelevant conceptions. They do more than obscure the issue: they prevent the solution of the problem. The Sunday question has been clouded by several popular misconceptions. The Church cannot take one step forward until certain facts are plainly asserted.

The first is this: the observance of Sunday was not originally based on the fourth commandment or any other Jewish ordinance. The principle of the Sabbath is not identical with the principle of the Sunday. The change from the seventh to the first day is insignificant compared with the vast difference between those two days. To condense a whole volume of historical investigation into a sentence, it may be said that there is not a shred of evidence that the Jewish Sabbath with its peculiar sanctions developed into the Christian Sunday. There is a vital distinction between the two, because the principle of the Sabbath was rest, while the peculiar mark of Sunday for centuries has been action.

The second fact to be asserted is this: an act is no more immoral on Sunday than on a week day unless (a) it is a transgression of a statute law framed to safeguard Sunday, in which case there attaches to the act a legal, not an ethical immorality. Any possible ethical immorality involved is not in the act, but in the lawlessness of the person performing it; or unless (b) it is an act, like unnecessary labor, which encourages a practice whose universal indulgence would deprive men of their higher privileges or prevent their more sacred duties in life.

Such statements lead us at once to the origin and purpose of Sunday.

Sunday is a Christian institution. It originated in the Apostolic practice of meeting for religious exercises on the first day of the week in memory of our Lord’s resurrection. It was a festival — a day of joy and gladness — an echo of the first Easter. As such it continued. When Constantine issued the famous Edict of Milan in 313, by which toleration was extended to the Christian religion, he gave imperial sanction to the first day of the week. The Christian church, as a whole, has never relaxed its observance of Sunday as the festival of the resurrection, although in divers times and places it has obscured this character of the feast by other and more remote sanctions.

But it was a bold stroke on the part of the Church in later days to claim Sunday as its own to the exclusion of other interests that are involved in its observance. For it must not be forgotten that, although the Sabbath and Sunday are of distinct historical origin, they are both the expression of that necessity, imposed on man by divine law and human infirmities, to change the occupations, thoughts, interests, and habits of man at least every seventh day. Otherwise the man suffers and the race degenerates. The Church, with a wisdom unsurpassed, was masterful in its strategy when it claimed Sunday, the day of coincidence of historical religious worship and natural necessity, as the time over whose entire occupations it might exercise exclusive control. To claim that the complement of a man’s usual activities might be found in a day devoted exclusively to passive and religious practices was a daring appeal to the religious instincts of man. It assumed the sufficiency of the six days for the adequate exercise of all man’s faculties except the religious. For that faculty alone it claimed Sunday.

This bold claim of the Church succeeded and failed.

It succeeded, so far as success may be claimed for any religious endeavor, because the men to whom the appeal was made were men in primitive conditions of society, who indeed found in their occupations all the other elements needed for wholesome living. It was before the age of specialized labor, and the normal man could find change of thought, habit, and interest from day to day. The divine necessity which, stated as an average, was one day’s change for six days’ work, was satisfied by a more even distribution of both elements. The labors of men of earlier generations were a means of livelihood, a source of enjoyment, an opportunity for social intercourse, and a stimulus to active thinking. The labors of vast armies of men and women to-day are mechanical, uninteresting, monotonous, and joyless.

The Church failed because it could not anticipate these latter conditions of labor. Consequently the Church created a false impression both of Sunday and of religion; making religion a highly-specialized interest for a chosen day — an interest whose peculiar sanctions practically ceased when the sun set on Sunday.

We are now reaping the results of this claim of the Church. There can be no doubt that its motives were the highest, and its sacrifices for its ideals most noble. But of its neglect to emphasize all the uses of Sunday there can be no doubt. The age that is gone did not need this emphasis. But when the modern world was ushered in, the world of machinery, high social organization, slavish labor, and crushing specialization, the question rushed again to confront the Church. And the question is — What is the full purpose of Sunday? Has it any purpose other than as a day for the practice of religion?

Here is the heart of the Sunday question, and here is the answer the Church must make: —

Sunday is the day when the Church will endeavor to give to each man all those elements of wholesome living of which his week in the modern world deprives him.

Would the Church in so doing surrender Sunday as its peculiar day for religious observance? No. It would rather enlarge its conception of its own purpose by including in its vision the real service of the whole man. Nor would the Church belittle its worship and practices. Under the inspiration of such a vision it would but emphasize them as the essential part of its ministry to men. It would never waver in its appeals to men to serve God. It would never fail to insist and plead that all other privileges and purposes of Sunday would be fruitless unless Sunday were employed also in upbuilding the chief of all man’s conceptions, his duty toward God.

With such a conception of its duty, with the conviction that Sunday is a Christian day rightly devoted to any purpose which is advantageous in regenerating and uplifting the lives of the people, the Church would go into the struggle for righteousness in our nation with a vigor and resourcefulness never before realized. Such principles boldly stated and acted upon would enlist the interest and help of multitudes of people who now shirk their duty in the Church. They are in the curious position of doing on Sunday that of which they believe the Church to disapprove; and yet in so doing they maintain the physical efficiency necessary to their well-being. The people have taken the Sunday question into their own hands. How great is the folly of attempting to compel men and women to look upon themselves as conventional sinners when they have not the inner conviction of sin, when their consciences are not disturbed.

That many have over-stepped the bounds and have made Sunday a day of mere pleasure, and even reveling, there can be no doubt. Rut is one misapprehension ever corrected by another of the opposite sort? If Sabbatarianism were defensible as a principle it might eventually prevail more largely as a practice. To maintain an indefensible Sabbatarianism as a bulwark against an equally indefensible Sunday laxity not only alienates those friendly to a Christian Sunday, but does a grave injustice to the broader principles of religion. If Sunday is to be serviceable to the righteousness that is the heart of religion, if it is to promote that wholesomeness which is the fruit of the divine process of salvation, then Sunday must be a day whose agencies are as broad as the needs of the whole man. And, to-day, the whole man needs his Sunday as he never needed it before, to correct the incompleteness of the week’s work. We must never forget that the use of Sunday is not to be judged by the privileges of the fortunate, but by the needs of the vast mass of men and women upon whom the burdens and cares of this world are falling with ever-increasing weight. They are the ones for whom I make my plea.

What likewise shall be the attitude of the Church toward the children? Must the Church be apologetic and weakly admit that, perhaps, a little play on Sunday afternoon is not so very wicked? That is quite different from the practice of the saintly Keble who, in his parish at Hursley, encouraged Sunday cricket. The mind of the child is intensely set on things modern. The boy is very impressionable to strong religious teaching, but he is intolerant of artificial sins and misty symbolism. He prefers aëroplanes to archangels. Must he be brought up to believe that proper Sunday recreation and a sincere religious life are incompatible?

But the problem is not solved by the Church’s assertion of the full freedom of men to use Sunday for such interests as will upbuild them spiritually, mentally, and physically. This attitude, however, brings with it the possibility of finding a solution. The Church will organize and serve with a fresh enthusiasm if it looks upon the liberties of Sunday, not as a concession to laxity, but as a right of men which the Church must assist in maintaining.

And now I seem to hear the fatuous and shallow criticism that this is but another form of the idea, so unjustly attributed to many godly people, that if a man goes to church on Sunday morning he may do what he pleases the remainder of the day. Such a fallacious statement needs no refutation. It is not the doctrine of this article. The real principle of Sunday privilege is on the highest plane in its appeal. It is this. If a man does his duty to God on Sunday, not merely by being present at church, but by active participation in all the phases of worship, then he may use his Sunday likewise to re-create himself mentally and physically, that he may become the wholesome being through whom the great ideals of worship and character may be applied to the world’s work and mediated to his fellow men.

Upon such a principle what would be the Church’s attitude toward Sunday baseball, theatres, and moving picture-shows? It is a vital question. There seems but one solution. When the Church, as a whole, has awakened to its full duty; when it shall compel the opening of our libraries and the freedom of our parks for recreation; when it shall create and use every possible agency to provide theover-wearied worker with that of which his week’s work in the world deprives him; when it shall strengthen wavering hands and direct indecisive feet by its service for the uplifting of the whole man; then and only then may it logically demand of society the application of a rigorous principle. The principle is this: —

Any money-making enterprise on Sunday not essential to the continuance of life, or the protection of property over an interval of general cessation from labor, and not necessary to the fulfillment of life’s higher purposes, is detrimental to the people and a menace to society.

By this principle would be justified the continuance on Sunday of such vital contributors to our social welfare as the railroads. The stopping of all traffic on Sunday would be a menace to the orderly continuance of industrial activities on week-days. This would bring hardship and privation upon an army of toilers. But by the same principle would be condemned those petty devices by which an avaricious host attempt to enrich themselves in taking advantage on Sunday of man’s weakness for amusement.

The practical programme of the Church must be developed from a careful adaptation of its resources and ideals to the actual needs of the community which it serves. Freed from all suspicion of material self-interest, it must give to each man, in their purest form, the essential things of which he is ordinarily deprived. It must give him religion. That is fundamental. If, to make him more capable of appropriating the benefits of religion, it must also give him physical recreation, even on Sunday, let not the Church shirk its duty. If it finds him dulled and apathetic by reason of the dreary and monotonous labor to which his days arc enslaved, then the Church must rise to its opportunity and give him amusement.

The Church alone can do this effectively because it gives likewise that deep interest by which amusement and recreation are transformed into instruments for emphasizing the principle, so often proclaimed but so insufficiently practiced, of the brotherhood of man. It is admitted that the evils of Sunday laxity cannot be entirely eradicated by the activity of the Church. But the Church would accomplish much toward this end by well-directed efforts to make Sunday a cheerful and active day of moral and physical recreation and development for men. That it would thereby regain the respect and allegiance of t he masses is certain. The Church faces a great opportunity. To grasp it completely will require patience, courage, and wisdom. Not secularizing a sacred trust, but exercising a lofty privilege, the Church must make Sunday the day for the fullest expression of its purpose to apply the vital spirituality of its Master to all the needs of our common humanity.