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CHAP. VIII. By what acts and omissions the duty of the Christian
sabbath is violated. Since the obligation upon Christians to comply with the religious observance of Sunday, arises from the public uses of the institution, and the authority of the apostolic practice, the manner of obServing it ought to be that which best fulfils these uses, and conforms the nearest to this practice.
The uses proposed by the institution are : 1. To facilitate attendance upon public worship.
2. To meliorate the condition of the laborious classes of mankind, by regular and seasonable returns of rest.
3. By a general suspension of business and amusement, to invite and enable persons of every description to apply their time and thoughts to subjects appertaining to their salvation.
With the primitive Christians, the peculiar, and probably for some time the only, distinction of the first day of the week, was the
holding of religious assemblies upon that day. We learn, however, from the testimony of a very early writer amongst them, that they also reserved the day for religious meditations ;-Unusquisque nostrum (saith Irenæus) sabbatizat spiritualiter, meditatione legis gaudens, opificium Dei admirans.
WHEREFORE the duty of the day is violated,
1st, By all such employments or engagements ás (though differing from our ordinary occupation) hinder our attendance upon public worship, or take up so much of our time as not to leave a sufficient part of the day at leisure for religious reflection as the going of journeys, the paying or receiving of visits which engage the whole day, or employing| the time at home in writing letters, settling accounts, or in applying ourselves to studies, or the reading of books, which bear no relation to the business of religion.
2dly, By unnecessary encroachments on the rest and liberty which Sunday ought to bring to the inferior orders of the community; as by keeping servants on that day confined and busied in prepa
gations for the superfluous elegances of our tables, or dress.
3dly, By such recreations as are customarily forborne out of respect to the day; as hunting, shooting, fishing, public diversions, frequenting taverns, playing at cards or dice..
If it be asked, as it often has been, wherein consists the difference between walking out with your staff, or with your gun? between spending the evening at home, or in a tavern? between passing the Sunday afternoon at a game of cards, or in conversation not more edifying, nor always so inoffensive ?-to these, and to the same question under a variety of forms, and in a multitude of similar examples, we return the following answer :- That the religious observance of Sunday, if it ought to be retained at all, must be upholden by some public and visible distinctions : that, draw the line of distinction where you will, many actions which are situated on the confines of the line, will differ very little, and yet lie on the opposite sides of it :-that every trespass upon that reserve which public decency has established, breaks down the fence by which the day is separated to the service of religion :-that it is unsafe to trifle with scruples and habits that have a beneficial tendency, although founded merely in custom :--that these liberties, however intended, will certainly be considered by those who observe them, not only as disrespectful to the day and institution, but as proceeding from a secret contempt of the Christian faith :-that, consequently, they diminish a reverence for religion in others,
so far as the authority of our opinion, or the efficacy of our example, reaches ; or rather, so far as either will serve for an excuse of negligence to those who are glad of any :-that as to cards and dice, which put in their claim to be considered among the harmless occupations of a vacant hour, it may be observed, that few find any difficulty in refraining from play on Sunday, except they who sit down to it with the views and eagerness of gamesters ;-that gaming is seldom innocent ;-that the anxiety and perturbations, however, which it excites, are inconsistent with the tranquillity and frame of temper in which the duties and thoughts
of religion should always both find and leave us : and lastly we shall remark, that the example of other countries, where the same or greater license is allowed, affords no apology for irregularities in our own: because a practice which is tolerated by public usage, neither receives the same construction, nor gives the same offence, as where it is censured and prohibited.
Of reverencing the Deity. IN many persons, a seriousness, and sense of awe, overspread the imagination, whenever the idea of the Supreme Being is presented to their thoughts. This effect, which forms a considerable security against vice, is the consequence not so much of reflection as of habit; which habit being generated by the external expressions of reverence which we use ourselves, or observe in others, may be destroyed by causes opposite to these, and especially by that familiar levity with which some learn to speak of the Deity, of his attributes, providence, revelations, or worship.
God hath been pleased (no matter for what reason, although probably for this) to forbid the vain mention of his name :-" Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Now the mention is vain, when it is useless; and it is useless, when it is neither likely nor intended to serve any good purpose ; as when it flows from the lips idle and unmeaning, or is applied, on occasions inconsistent with any consideration of religion and devotion, to express our anger, our earnestness, our courage, or our mirth; or indeed when it is used at all,
except in acts of religion, or in serious and seasonable discourse upon religious subjects.
The prohibition of the third commandment is recognised by Christ, in his sermon upon the mount; which sermon adverts to none but the moral parts of the Jewish law: “I say unto you, Swear not at all : but let your communication be Yea, yea ; Nay, Bay: for whatsoever is more than these, cometh or
evil.” The Jews probably interpreted the prohibition as restrained to the 'name JEHOVAH, the name which the Deity_had appointed and appropriated to himself; Exod. vi. 3. The words of Christ extend the prohibition beyond the name of God, to every thing associated with the idea :Swear not, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne ; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool ; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King." Matt. v. 35.
The offence of profane swearing is aggravated by the consideration, that in it duty and decency are sacrificed to the slenderest of temptations. Suppose the habit, either from affectation, or by negligence and inadvertency, to be already formed, it must always remain within the power of the most ordinary resolution to correct it; and it cannot, one would think, cost a great deal to relinquish the pleasure and honour which it confers. A concern for duty is in fact never strong, when the exertion requisite to vanquish a habit founded in no antecedent propensity is thought too much, or too painful.
A contempt of positive duties, or rather of those Lluties for which the reason is not so plain as the command, indicates a disposition upon which the authority of revelation has obtained little influence. -This remark is applicable to the offence of profane swearing, and describes, perhaps, pretty ex. actly, the general character of those who are most addicted to it.
Mockery and ridicule, when exercised upon the Scriptures, or even upon the places, persons, and forms, set apart for the ministration of religion, fall within the meaning of the law which forbids the profanation of God's name ; especially as that law is extended by Christ's interpretation. They are moreover inconsistent with a religious frame of mind; for, as no one ever either feels himself disposed to pleasantry, or capable of being diverted with the pleasantry of others, upon matters in which he is deeply interested ;
so a mind intent upon the acquisition of heaven, rejects with indigo nation every attempt to entertain it with jests, cal. culated to degrade or deride subjects which it never
recollects but with seriousness and anxiety. No. thing but stupidity, or the most frivolous dissipation of thought, can make even the inconsiderate forget the supreme importance of every thing which relates to the expectation of a future existence. Whilst the infidel mocks at the superstitions of the vulgar, insults over their credulous fears, their childish errors, or fantastic rites, it does not occur to him to observe, that the most preposterous device by which the weakest devotee ever believed he was securing the happiness of a future life, is more rational than unconcern about it. Upon this subject, nothing is so absurd as indifference ;--no folly so contemptible, as thoughtlessness and levity.
Finally ; The knowledge of what is due to the solemnity of those interests, concerning which re. velation professes to inform and direct us, may teach even those who are least inclined to respect the prejudices of mankind, to observe a decorum in the style and conduct of religious disquisitions, with the neglect of which many adversaries of Christianity are justly chargeable. Serious argu. ments are fair on all sides. Christianity is but ill defended by refusing audience or toleration to the objections of unbelievers. But whilst we would have freedom of inquiry restrained by no laws but those of decency, we are entitled to demand, on behalf of a religion which holds forth to mankind assurances of immortality, that its credit be assailed by no other weapons than those of sober discussion and legitimate reasoning :-that the truth or talsehood of Christianity be never made a topic of raillery, a theme for the exercise of wit or eloquence, or a subject of contention for literary fame and victory :-that the cause be tried upon its merits :-that all applications to the fancy, passions, or prejudices, of the reader; all attempts to preoccupy, insnare, or perplex, his judgment, by any art, influence, or impression whatsoever, ex. trinsic to the proper grounds and evidence upon which his assent ought to proceed, be rejected from a question which involves in its determination the hopes, the virtue, and the repose, of millions : that the controversy be managed on both sides with sincerity ; that is, that nothing be produced,