Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/December 1880/The Sabbath I
By Professor JOHN TYNDALL, F. R. S.
IN the opening words of a lecture delivered in this city four years ago, I spoke of the desire and tendency of the present age to connect itself organically with preceding ages. The expression of this desire is not limited to the connection of the material organisms of to-day with those of the geologic past. It is equally manifested in the domain of mind. To this source, for example, may be traced the philosophical writings of Mr. Herbert Spencer. To it we are indebted for the series of learned works on "The Sources of Christianity," by M. Renan. To it we owe the researches of Professor Max Müller in comparative philology and mythology, and the endeavor to found on these researches a "science of religion." In this relation, moreover, the recent work of Principal Caird is highly characteristic of the tendencies of the age. He has no words of vituperation for the older phases of faith. Throughout the ages he discerns a purpose and a growth, wherein the earlier and more imperfect religions constitute the natural and necessary precursors of the later and more perfect ones. Even in the slough of ancient paganism, Principal Caird detects a power ever tending toward amelioration, ever working toward the advent of a better state, and finally emerging in the purer life of Christianity.
These changes in religious conceptions and practices correspond to the changes wrought by augmented experience in the texture and contents of the human mind. Acquainted as we now are with this immeasurable universe, and with the energies operant therein, the guises under which the sages of old presented the Maker and Builder thereof seem to us to belong to the utter infancy of things. To point to illustrations drawn from the heathen world would be superfluous. We may mount higher, and still find our assertion true. When, for example, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel are represented as climbing Mount Sinai, and actually seeing there the God of Israel, we listen to language to which we can attach no significance. "There is in all this," says Principal Caird, "much which, even when religious feeling is absorbing the latent nutriment contained in it, is perceived [by the philosophic Christian of to-day] to belong to the domain of materialistic and figurative conception." The children of Israel received without idealization the statements of their great law-giver. To them the tables of the law were true tablets of stone, prepared, engraved, broken, and reëngraved; while the graving tool which inscribed the law was held undoubtingly to be the finger of God. To us such conceptions are impossible. We may by habit use the words, but we attach to them no definite meaning. "As the religious education of the world advances," says Principal Caird, "it becomes impossible to attach any literal meaning to those representations of God and his relations to mankind which ascribe to him human senses, appetites, passions, and the actions and experiences proper to man's lower and finite nature."
Principal Caird, nevertheless, ascribes to this imaging of the Unseen a special value and significance, regarding it as furnishing an objective counterpart to religious emotion, permanent but plastic—capable of indefinite change and purification in response to the changing moods and aspirations of mankind. It is solely on this mutable element that he fixes his attention in estimating the religious character of Individuals or nations. "Here," he says, "the fundamental inquiry is as to the objective character of their religious ideas or beliefs. The first question is, not how they feel, but what they think and believe; not whether their religion manifests itself in emotions more or less vehement or enthusiastic, but what are the conceptions of God and divine things by which these emotions are called forth?" These conceptions "of God and divine things" were, it is admitted, once "materialistic and figurative," and therefore objectively untrue. Nor is their purer essence yet distilled; for the religious education of the world still "advances," and is, therefore, incomplete. Hence the essentially fluxional character of that objective counterpart to religious emotion to which Principal Caird attaches most importance. He, moreover, assumes that the emotion is called forth by the conception. We have doubtless action and reaction here; but it may be questioned whether the conception, which is a construction of the human understanding, could be at all put together without materials drawn from the experience of the human heart.
The changes of conception here adverted to have not always been peacefully brought about. The "transmutation" of the old beliefs was often accompanied by conflict and suffering. It was conspicuously so during the passage from paganism to Christianity. In his work entitled "L'Église Chrétienne," Renan describes the sufferings of a group of Christians at Smyrna which may be taken as typical. The victims were cut up by the lash till the inner tissues of their bodies were laid bare. They were dragged naked over pointed shells. They were torn by lions; and finally, while still alive, were committed to the flames. But all these tortures failed to extort from them a murmur or a cry. The fortitude of the early Christians gained many converts to their cause; still, when the evidential value of fortitude is considered, it must not be forgotten that almost every faith can point to its rejoicing martyrs. Even these Smyrna murderers had a faith of their own, the imperiling of which by Christianity spurred them on to murder. From faith they extracted the diabolical energy which animated them. The strength of faith is, therefore, no proof of the objective truth of faith. Indeed, at the very time here referred to we find two classes of Christians equally strong—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians—who, while dying for the same Master, turned their backs upon each other, mutually declining all fellowship and communion.
Thus early the forces which had differentiated Christianity from paganism made themselves manifest in details, producing disunion among those whose creeds and interests were in great part identical. Struggles for priority were not uncommon. Jesus himself had to quell such contentions. His exhortations to humility were frequent. "He that is least among you shall be greatest of all." There were also conflicts upon points of doctrine. The difference which concerns us most had reference to the binding power of the Jewish law. Here dissensions broke out among the apostles themselves. Nobody who reads with due attention the epistles of Paul can fail to see that this mighty propagandist had to carry on a life-long struggle to maintain his authority as a preacher of Christ. There were not wanting those who denied him all vocation. James was the head of the Church at Jerusalem, and Judeo-Christians held that the ordination of James was alone valid. Paul, therefore, having no mission from James, was deemed by some a criminal intruder. The real fault of Paul was his love of freedom, and his uncompromising rejection, on behalf of his Gentile converts, of the chains of Judaism. He proudly calls himself "the Apostle of the Gentiles." Pie says to the Corinthians: "I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft." He then establishes his right to the position which he claimed, by recounting in detail the sufferings he had endured. I leave it to you to compare this Christian hero with some of the "freethinkers" of our own day, who flaunt in public their cheap and trumpery theories of the great Apostle and the Master whom he served.
Paul was too outspoken to escape assault. All insincerity and double-facedness—all humbug, in short—were hateful to him; and even among his colleagues he found scope for this feeling. Judged by our standard of manliness, Peter, in moral stature, fell far short of Paul. In that supreme moment when his Master required of him "the durance of a granite ledge" Peter proved "unstable as water." He ate with the Gentiles when no Judeo-Christian was present to observe him; but when such appeared he withdrew himself, fearing those which were of the circumcision. Paul charged him openly with dissimulation. But Paul's quarrel with Peter was more than personal. Paul contended for a principle, determined to shield his Gentile children in the Lord from the yoke which their Jewish co-religionists would have imposed upon them. "If thou," he says to Peter, "being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as the Jews?" In the spirit of a true liberal he overthrew the Judaic preferences for days, deferring at the same time to the claims of conscience. "Let him who desires a Sabbath," he virtually says, "enjoy it; but let him not impose it on his brother who does not." The rift thus revealed in the apostolic lute widened with time, and Christian love was not the feeling which long animated the respective followers of Peter and Paul.
We who have been born into a settled state of things can hardly realize the primitive commotions out of which this  This is a sample of the bitterness then common. It was a time of travail—of throes and whirlwinds. Men at length began to yearn for peace and unity, and out of the embroilment was slowly consolidated that great organization, the Church of Rome. The Church of Rome had its precursor in the Church at Rome. But Rome was then the capital of the world; and, in the end, that great city gave the Christian Church established in her midst such a decided preponderance that it eventually laid claim to the proud title of "Mother and Matrix of all other Churches."has emerged. We have, for example, the canon of Scripture already arranged for us. But to sift and select these writings from the mass of spurious documents afloat at the time of compilation was a work of vast labor, difficulty, and responsibility. The age was rife with forgeries. Even good men lent themselves to these pious frauds, believing that true Christian doctrine, which of course was their doctrine, would be thereby quickened and promoted. There were gospels and counter-gospels; epistles and counter-epistles—some frivolous, some dull, some speculative and romantic, and some so rich and penetrating, so saturated with the Master's spirit, that, though not included in the canon, they enjoyed an authority almost equal to that of the canonical books. The end being held to sanctify the means, there was no lack of manufactured testimony. The Christian world seethed not only with apocryphal writings, but with hostile interpretations of writings not apocryphal. Then arose the sect of the Gnostics—men who know—who laid claim to the possession of a perfect science, and who, if they were to be believed, had discovered the true formula for what philosophers called "the absolute." But these speculative Gnostics were rejected by the conservative and orthodox Christians of their day as fiercely as their successors the Agnostics men who don't know—are rejected by the orthodox in our own. The martyr Polycarp one day met Marcion, an ultra-Paulite, and a celebrated member of the Gnostic sect. On being asked by Marcion whether he, Polycarp, did not know him, Polycarp replied, "Yes, I know you very well; you are the first-born of the devil."
With jolts and oscillations, resulting at times in overthrow, the religious life of the world has spun down the "the ringing grooves of change." A smoother route may have been undiscoverable. At all events, it was undiscovered. Many years ago I found myself in discussion with a friend who entertained the notion that the general tendency of things in this world is toward an equilibrium of peace and blessedness to the human race. My notion was, that equilibrium meant not peace and blessedness, but death. No motive power is to be got from heat, save during its fall from a higher to a lower temperature, as no power is to be got from water save during its descent from a higher to a lower level. Thus also life consists, not in equilibrium but in the passage toward equilibrium. In man it is the leap from the potential, through the actual, to repose. The passage often involves a fight. Every natural growth is more or less of a struggle with other growths, in which, in the long run, the fittest survives. Some are, and must be, wiser than the rest; and the enunciation of a thought in advance of the moment provokes dissent and thus promotes action. The thought may be unwise; but it is only by discussion, checked by experience, that its value can be determined. Discussion, therefore, is one of the motive powers of life, and, as such, is not to be deprecated. Still one can hardly look without despair on the passions excited and the energies wasted over questions which, after ages of strife, are shown to be mere foolishness. Thus the theses which shook the world during the first centuries of the Christian era have, for the most part, shrunk into nothingness. It may, however, be that the human mind could not become fitted to pronounce judgment on a controversy otherwise than by wading through it. We get clear of the jungle by traversing it. Thus even the errors, conflicts, and sufferings of bygone times may have been necessary factors in the education of the world. Let nobody, however, say that it has not been a hard education. The yoke of religion has not always been easy, nor its burden light—a result arising, in part, from the ignorance of the world at large, but more especially from the mistakes of those who had the charge and guidance of a great spiritual force, and who guided it blindly. Looking over the literature of the Sabbath question, as catalogued and illustrated in the laborious, able, and temperate work of the late Mr. Robert Cox, we can hardly repress a sigh in thinking of the gifts and labors of intellect which this question has absorbed, and the amount of bad blood it has generated. Further reflection, however, reconciles us to the fact that waste in intellect may be as much an incident of growth as waste in nature.
When the various passages of the Pentateuch which relate to the observance of the Sabbath are brought together, as they are in the excellent work of Mr. Cox, and when we pass from them to the similarly collected utterances of the New Testament, we are immediately exhilarated by a freer atmosphere and a vaster sky. Christ found the religions of the world oppressed almost to suffocation by the load of formulas piled upon them by the priesthood. He removed the load, and rendered respiration free. He cared little for forms and ceremonies, which had ceased to be the raiment of man's spiritual life. To that life he looked, and it he sought to restore. It was remarked by Martin Luther that Jesus broke the Sabbath deliberately, and even ostentatiously, for a purpose. He walked in the fields; he plucked, shelled, and ate the corn; he treated the sick, and his spirit may be detected in the alleged imposition upon the restored cripple of the labor of carrying his bed on the Sabbath-day. He crowned his protest against a sterile formalism by the enunciation of a principle which applies to us to-day as much as to the world in the time of Christ: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
Though the Jews, to their detriment, kept themselves as a nation intellectually isolated, the minds of individuals were frequently colored by Greek thought and culture. The learned and celebrated Philo, who was contemporary with Josephus, was thus influenced. Philo expanded the uses of the seventh day by including in its proper observance studies which might be called secular. "Moreover," he says, "the seventh day is also an example from which you may learn the propriety of studying philosophy. As on that day it is said God beheld the works that he had made, so you also may yourself contemplate the works of Nature." Permission to do this is exactly what the members of the Sunday Society humbly claim. The Jew, Philo, would grant them this permission, but our that they do not—I fear that Paul, in his customary language, would pronounce their conduct to be "without excuse."Christians will not. Where shall we find such samples of those works of Nature which Philo commended to the Sunday contemplation of his countrymen as in the British Museum? Within those walls we have, as it were, epochs disentombed—ages of divine energy illustrated. But the efficient authorities—among whom I would include a short-sighted portion of the public resolutely close the doors, and exclude from the contemplation of these things the multitudes who have only Sunday to devote to them. Taking them on their own ground, we ask, are the authorities logical in doing so? Do they who thus stand between them and us really believe those treasures to be the work of God? Do they or do they not hold, with Paul, that "the eternal power and Godhead" may be clearly seen from "the things that are made"? If they do—and they dare not affirm
Science, which is the logic of nature, demands proportion between the house and its foundation. Theology sometimes builds weighty structures on a doubtful base. The tenet of Sabbath observance is an illustration. With regard to the time when the obligation to keep the Sabbath was imposed, and the reasons for its imposition, there are grave differences of opinion between learned and pious men. Some affirm that it was instituted at the Creation in remembrance of the rest of God. Others allege that it was imposed after the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, and in memory of that departure. The Bible countenances both interpretations. In Exodus we find the origin of the Sabbath described with unmistakable clearness, thus: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day. Wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it." In Deuteronomy this reason is suppressed and another is assigned. Israel being a servant in Egypt, God, it is stated, brought them out of it through a mighty hand and by a stretched-out arm. "Therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath-day." After repeating the ten commandments, and assigning the foregoing origin to the Sabbath, the writer in Deuteronomy proceeds thus: "These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more," But in Exodus God not only added more, but something entirely different. This has been a difficulty with commentators—not formidable, if the Bible be treated as any other ancient book, but extremely formidable on the theory of plenary inspiration. I remember in the days of my youth being shocked and perplexed by an admission made by Bishop Watson in his celebrated "Apology for the Bible," written in answer to Tom Paine. "You have," says the Bishop, "disclosed a few weeds which good men would have covered up from view." That there were "weeds" in the Bible requiring to be kept out of sight was to me, at that time, a new revelation. I take little pleasure in dwelling upon the errors and blemishes of a book rendered venerable to me by intrinsic wisdom and imperishable associations. But when that book is wrested to our detriment, when its passages are invoked to justify the imposition of a yoke, irksome because unnatural, we are driven in self-defense to be critical. In self-defense, therefore, we plead these two discordant accounts of the origin of the Sabbath, one of which makes it a purely Jewish institution, while the other, unless regarded as a mere myth and figure, is in violent antagonism to the facts of geology.
With regard to the alleged "proofs" that Sunday was introduced as a substitute for Saturday, and that its observance is as binding upon Christians as their Sabbath was upon the Jews, I can only say that those which I have seen are of the flimsiest and vaguest character. "If," says Milton, "on the plea of a divine command, they impose upon us the observances of a particular day, how do they presume, without the authority of a divine command, to substitute another day in its place?" Outside the bounds of theology no one would think of applying the term "proofs" to the evidence adduced for the change; and yet on this pivot, it has been alleged, turns the eternal fate of human souls. Were such a doctrine not actual it would be incredible. It has been truly said that the man who accepts it sinks, in doing so, to the lowest depth of atheism. It is perfectly reasonable for a religious community to set apart one day in seven for rest and devotion. Most of those who object to the Judaic observance of the Sabbath recognize not only the wisdom but the necessity of some such institution, not on the ground of a divine edict, but of common sense. They contend, however, that it ought to be as far as possible a day of cheerful renovation both of body and spirit, and not a day of penal gloom. There is nothing that I should withstand more strenuously than the conversion of the first day of the week into a common working day. Quite as strenuously, however, should I oppose its being employed as a day for the exercise of sacerdotal rigor.
The early reformers emphatically asserted the freedom of Christians from Sabbatical bonds; indeed, Puritan writers have reproached them with dimness of vision regarding the observance of the Lord's day. "The fourth commandment," says Luther, "literally understood, does not apply to us Christians; for it is entirely outward, like other ordinances of the Old Testament, all of which are now left free by Christ. If a preacher," he continues, "wishes to force you back to Moses, ask him whether you were brought by Moses out of Egypt? If he says no, then say. How, then, does Moses concern me, since he speaks to the people that have been brought out of Egypt? In the New Testament Moses comes to an end, and his laws lose their force. He must bow in the presence of Christ." "The Scripture," says Melanchthon, "allows that we are not bound to keep the Sabbath; for it teaches that the ceremonies of the law of Moses are not necessary after the revelation of the Gospel. And yet," he adds, "because it was requisite to appoint a certain day that the people might know when to assemble together, it appeared that the Church appointed for this purpose the Lord's day." I am glad to find my grand old namesake on the side of freedom in this matter. "As for the Sabbath," says the martyr Tyndale, "we are lords over it, and may yet change it into Monday, or into any other day, as we see need; or may make every tenth day holy day, only if we see cause why. Neither need we any holy day at all if the people might be taught without it." Calvin repudiated "the frivolities of false prophets who, in later times, have instilled Jewish ideas into the people. Those," he continues, "who thus adhere to the Jewish institution go thrice as far as the Jews themselves in the gross and carnal superstition of Sabbatism." Even John Knox, who has had so much Puritan strictness unjustly laid to his charge, knew how to fulfill on the Lord's day the duties of a generous, hospitable host. His Master feasted on the Sabbath-day, and he did not fear to do the same on Sunday.
Toward the end of the sixteenth century, demands for a stricter observance of the Sabbath began to be made—probably in the first instance with some reason, and certainly with good intent. The manners of the time were coarse, and Sunday was often chosen for their offensive exhibition. But, if there was coarseness on the one side, there was ignorance both of nature and human nature on the other. Contemporaneously with the demands for stricter Sabbath rules, God's judgments on Sabbath-breakers began to be pointed out. Then and afterward "God's judgments" were much in vogue, and man, their interpreter, frequently behaved as a fiend in the supposed execution of them. But of this subsequently. A Suffolk clergyman named Bownd, who, according to Cox, was the first to set forth at large the views afterward embodied in the Westminster (Confession, adduces many such judgments. One was the case of a nobleman "who for hunting on the holy day was punished by having a child with a head like a dog's." Though he cites this instance, Bownd, in the matter of Sabbath observance, was very lenient toward noblemen. With courtier like pliancy, which is not without its counterpart at the present time, be makes an exception in their favor: "Concerning the feasts of noblemen and great personages or their ordinary diet upon this day, because they represent in some measure the majesty of God on the earth, in carrying the image, as it were, of the magnificence and puissance of the Lord, much is to be granted to them."
Imagination once started in this direction was sure to be prolific. Instances accordingly grew apace in number and magnitude. Memorable examples of God's judgments upon Sabbath-breakers, and other like libertines, in their unlawful sports happening within this realm of England, were collected. Innumerable cases of drowning while bathing on Sunday were adduced, without the slightest attention to the logical requirements of the question. Week-day drownings were not dwelt upon, and nobody knew or cared how the question of proportion stood between the two classes of bathers. The civil war was regarded as a punishment for Sunday desecration. The fire of London and a subsequent great fire in Edinburgh were ascribed to this cause; while the fishermen of Berwick lost their trade through catching salmon on Sunday. A Nonconformist minister named John Wells, whose huge volume is described by Cox as "the most tedious of all the Puritan productions about the Sabbath," is specially copious in illustration. A drunken peddler, "fraught with commodities" on Sunday, drops into a river: God's retributive justice is seen in the fact. Wells traveled far in search of instances. One Utrich Schrœtorus, a Swiss, while playing at dice on the Lord's day, lost heavily, and apparently to gain the devil to his side broke out into this horrid blasphemy: "If fortune deceive me now I will thrust my dagger into the body of God." Whereupon he threw the dagger upward. It disappeared, and five drops of blood, which afterward proved indelible, fell upon the gaming-table. The devil then appeared, and with a hideous noise carried off the vile blasphemer. His two companions fared no better. One was struck dead and turned into worms, the other was executed. A vintner who on the Lord's day tempted the passers-by with a pot of wine was carried into the air by a whirlwind and never seen more. "Let us read and tremble," adds Mr. Wells. At Tidworth a man broke his leg on Sunday while playing at football. By a secret judgment of the Lord the wound turned into a gangrene, and in pain and terror the criminal gave up the ghost.
You may smile at these recitals, but is there not a survival of John Wells still extant among us? Are there not people in our midst so well informed regarding "the secret judgments of the Lord" as to be able to tell you their exact value and import, from the damaging of the share-market through the running of Sunday trains to the calamitous overthrow of a railway bridge? Alphonso of Castile boasted that, if he had been consulted at the beginning of things, he could have saved the Creator some worlds of trouble. It would not be difficult to give the God of our more rigid Sabbatarians a lesson in justice and mercy; for his alleged judgments savor but little of either. How are calamities to be classified? Almost within ear-shot of those who note these Sunday judgments, the poor miners of Blantyre are blown to pieces, while engaged in their sinless week-day toil. A little farther off the bodies of two hundred and sixty workers, equally innocent of Sabbath-breaking, are entombed at Abercarne. Dinas holds its sixty bodies, while the present year has furnished its fearful tale of similar disasters. Whence comes the vision which differentiates the Sunday calamity from the week-day calamity, seeing in the one a judgment of Heaven, and in the other a natural event? We may wink at the ignorance of John Wells, for he lived in a pre-scientific age; but it is not pleasant to see his features reproduced, on however small a scale, before an educated nation in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Notwithstanding their strictness about the Sabbath, which possibly carried with it the usual excess of a reaction, some of the straitest of the Puritan sect saw clearly that unremitting attention to business, whether religious or secular, was unhealthy. Considering recreation to be as necessary to health as daily food, they exhorted parents and masters, if they would avoid the desecration of the Sabbath, to allow to children and servants time for honest recreation on other days. They might have done well to inquire whether even Sunday devotions might not, without "moral culpability" on their part, keep the minds of children and servants too long upon the stretch. I fear many of the good men who insist on a Judaic observance of the Sabbath, and who dwell upon the peace and blessedness to be derived from a proper use of the Lord's day, generalize beyond their data, applying the experience of the individual to the case of mankind. What is a conscious joy and blessing to themselves they can not dream of as being a possible misery, or even a curse, to others. It is right that your most spiritually-minded men men—who, to use a devotional phrase, enjoy the closest walk with God—should be your pastors. But they ought also to be practical men, able to look not only on their personal feelings, but on the capacities of humanity at large, and willing to make their rules and teachings square with these capacities. There is in some minds a natural bias toward religion, as there is in others toward poetry, art, or mathematics; but the poet, artist, or mathematician, who would seek to impose upon others not possessing his tastes the studies which give him delight, would be deemed an intolerable despot. The philosopher Fichte was wont to contrast his mode of rising into the atmosphere of faith with the experience of others. In his case the process, he said, was purely intellectual. Through reason he reached religion; while in the case of many whom he knew this process was both unnecessary and unused, the bias of their minds sufficing to render faith, without logic, clear and strong. In making rules for the community these natural differences must be taken into account. The yoke which is easy to the few may be intolerable to the many, not only defeating its own immediate purpose, but frequently introducing recklessness or hypocrisy into minds which a franker and more liberal treatment would have kept free from both.—Nineteenth Century.