Observance of the Sabbath
by Gardiner Spring
The Sabbath lies at the foundation of all true morality. Morality flows from principle. Let the principles of moral obligation become relaxed, and the practice of morality will not long survive the overthrow. No man can preserve his own morals, no parent can preserve the morals of his children, without the impressions of religious obligation.
If you can induce a community to doubt the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures; to question the reality and obligations of religion; to hesitate, undeciding, whether there be any such thing as virtue or vice; whether there be an eternal state of retribution beyond the grave; or whether there exists any such being as God, you have broken down the barriers of moral virtue, and hoisted the flood gates of immorality and crime. I need not say that when a people have once done this, they can no longer exist as a tranquil and happy people. Every bond that holds society together would be ruptured; fraud and treachery would take the place of confidence between man and man; the tribunals of justice would be scenes of bribery and injustice; avarice, perjury, ambition, and revenge would walk through the land, and render it more like the dwelling of savage beasts than the tranquil abode of civilized and Christianized men.
If there is an institution which opposes itself to this progress of human degeneracy, and throws a shield before the interests of moral virtue in our thoughtless and wayward world, it is the Sabbath. In the fearful struggle between virtue and vice, notwithstanding the powerful auxiliaries which wickedness finds in the bosoms of men, and in the seductions and influence of popular example, wherever the Sabbath has been suffered to live, the trembling interests of moral virtue have always been revered and sustained. One of the principal occupations of this day is to illustrate and enforce the great principles of sound morality. Where this sacred trust is preserved inviolate, you behold a nation convened one day in seven for the purpose of acquainting themselves with the best moral principles and precepts; and it can not be otherwise than that the authority of moral virtue, under such auspices, should be acknowledged and felt.
We may not, at once, perceive the effects which this weekly observance produces. Like most moral causes, it operates slowly; but it operates surely, and gradually weakens the power and breaks the yoke of profligacy and sin. No villain regards the Sabbath. No vicious family regards the Sabbath. No immoral community regards the Sabbath. The holy rest of this ever-memorable day is a barrier which is always broken down before men become giants in sin. Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, remarks that “a corruption of morals usually follows a profanation of the Sabbath.” It is an observation of Lord Chief Justice Hale, that “of all the persons who were convicted of capital crimes, while he was on the bench, he found a few only who would not confess that they began their career of wickedness by a neglect of the duties of the Sabbath and vicious conduct on that day.”
The prisons in our own land could probably tell us that they have scarcely a solitary tenant who had not broken over the restraints of the Sabbath before he was abandoned to crime. You may enact laws for the suppression of immorality, but the secret and silent power of the Sabbath constitutes a stronger shield to the vital interest of the community than any code of penal statutes that ever was enacted. The Sabbath is the keystone of the arch which sustains the temple of virtue, which, however defaced, will survive many a rude shock so long as the foundation remains firm.
The observance of the Sabbath is also most influential in securing national prosperity. The God of Heaven has said, “Them that honor me I will honor.” You will not often find a notorious Sabbath breaker a permanently prosperous man; and a Sabbath-breaking community is never a happy or prosperous community. There is a multitude of unobserved influences which the Sabbath exerts upon the temporal welfare of men. It promotes the spirit of good order and harmony; it elevates the poor from want; it transforms squalid wretchedness; it imparts self-respect and elevation of character; it promotes softness and civility of manners; it brings together the rich and the poor upon one common level in the house of prayer; it purifies and strengthens the social affections, and makes the family circle the center of allurement and the source of instruction, comfort, and happiness. Like its own divine religion, “it has the promise of the life that now is and that which is to come,” for men can not put themselves beyond the reach of hope and heaven so long as they treasure up this one command, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”