Dr. Barnes On Enforced Sunday Idleness
THE celebrated Presbyterian theologian, Dr. Albert Barnes, speaks thus of compulsory Sunday idleness. Let Presbyterians and all other thinking men read and ponder:—
If we can have a sabbath, sacred in its stillness and its associations; maintained by a healthful, popular sentiment, rather than by human laws; revered as a day of holy rest, and as a type of heaven; a day when men shall delight to come together to worship God, and not a day of pastime, Christianity is safe in this land, and our country is safe. If not, the sabbath, and religion, and liberty will die together…. If the sabbath is not regarded as holy time, it will be regarded as pastime; if not a day sacred to devotion, it will be a day of recreation, of pleasure, of licentiousness.
Since this is to be so, the question is, what is to be the effect if the day ceases to be a day of religious observance? What will be the effect of releasing a population of several millions one-seventh part of the time from any settled business of life? What will be the result if they are brought under no religious instruction? What will be the effect on morals; on religion; on sober habits of industry; on virtue, happiness, and patriotism? Can we safely close our places of business and annihilate all the restraints that bind us during the six days? Can we turn out a vast population of the young with nothing to do, and abide the consequences of such a universal exposure to vice? Can we safely dismiss our young men, all over the land, with sentiments unsettled and with habits of virtue unformed, and throw them one day in seven upon the world with nothing to do? Can we safely release our sons and our apprentices and our clerks from our employ, and send them forth under the influence of unchecked, youthful passions? Can we safely open, as we do, fountains of poison at every corner of the street, and in every village and hamlet, and invite the young to drink there with impunity? Can there be a season of universal relaxation, occurring fifty-two times in a year, when all restraints are withdrawn, and when the power of temptation shall be plied with all that art and skill can do to lead the hosts in the way to ruin, and to drag them down to hell?
One would suppose that the experiment which has already been made in cities of our land, would be sufficient to remove all doubt from every reasonable mind on this subject. We are making the experiment on a large scale every sabbath. Extensively in our large cities and their vicinities, this is a day of dissipation, of riot, of licentiousness, and of blasphemy. It is probable that more is done to unsettle the habits of virtue, and soberness, and industry; to propagate infidelity, and to lay the foundation for future repentance or ignominy; to retard the progress of the temperance reformation, and to prepare candidates for the penitentiary and the gallows on this day than on all the other days of the week. So it always is where institutions designed for good are abused. They become as powerful in evil as they were intended to be for good. The sabbath is an institution of tremendous power for good or evil. If for good, as it is designed, and as it easily may be, it is laid at the foundation of all our peace, our intelligence, our morals, our religion. If for evil, it strikes at all these; nor is there any possible power in laws or in education that can, during the six days, counteract the evils of a sabbath given to licentiousness and sin. 300
It may be answered that a great many voluntarily choose thus to spend Sunday. This is true, but it is also true that the Church and State, if they have not united to compel idleness on that day, are not responsible for the dissipation occasioned by that idleness, but, on the other hand, if the Church and the State have compelled them to be idle when they preferred to engage in honest toil, they become responsible for the crime that idleness produces.
The Sabbath of the Lord is a spiritual 301 rest, not merely a day of cessation from work. When God enjoins rest from labor, it is that the time may be employed in spiritual worship. God requires man to cease from his labor on the Sabbath, but he gives to man a spiritual nature, by means of which the cessation from labor is profitably employed. On the other hand the State compels idleness, but does not and cannot give to the idler that spiritual nature which enables him to properly employ the enforced idleness; and therefore, as Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do, the State, in enforcing idleness on Sunday instead of promoting morality, is in reality fostering immorality as Dr. Barnes here teaches.