There are two kinds of Sabbath desecration which require to be noticed. One is that more private kind of which thousands are continually guilty, and which can only be checked by awakening men’s consciences. The other is that more public kind, which can only be remedied by the pressure of public opinion, and the strong arm of the law.
When I speak of private Sabbath desecration, I mean that reckless, thoughtless, secular way of spending Sunday, which everyone who looks round him must know is common. How many make the Lord’s Day a day for giving dinner parties — a day for looking over their accounts and making up their books — a day for going unnecessary journeys and quietly transacting worldly business — a day for reading newspapers or novels — a day for talking politics and idle gossip — a day, in short, for anything rather than the things of God.
Now all this sort of thing is wrong, decidedly wrong. Thousands, I firmly believe, never give the subject a thought: they sin from ignorance and inconsideration. They only do as others; they only spend Sunday as their fathers and grandfathers did before them: but this does not alter the case. It is utterly impossible to say that to spend Sunday as I have described is to “keep the day holy”: it is a plain breach of the Fourth Commandment, both in the letter and in the spirit. It is impossible to plead necessity or mercy in one instance of a thousand. And small and trifling as these breaches of the Sabbath may seem to be, they are exactly the sort of things that prevent men communing with God and getting good from His Day.
When I speak of public desecration of the Sabbath, I mean those many open, unblushing practices, which meet the eye on Sundays in the neighbourhood of large towns. I refer to the practice of keeping shops open, and buying and selling on Sundays. I refer especially to Sunday pleasure excursions by public transport and the opening of places of public amusement; and to the daring efforts which many are making in the present day to desecrate the Lord’s Day, regardless of its Divine authority. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.”
On all these points I feel not the smallest doubt in my own mind. These ways of spending the Sabbath are all wrong, decidedly wrong. So long as the Bible is the Bible, and the Fourth Commandment the Fourth Commandment, I dare not come to any other conclusion. They are all wrong. These ways of spending Sunday are none of them works of necessity or works of mercy. There is not the slightest likeness between them and any of the things which the Lord Jesus explains to be lawful on the Sabbath Day. To heal a sick person, or pull an ox or ass out of a pit, is one thing: to travel in excursion trains, or go to concerts, theatres, dances and cinemas, is quite another. The difference is as great as between light and darkness. These ways of spending Sunday are none of them of a holy tendency, or calculated to help us heavenward. No, indeed! all experience teaches that it needs something . more than the beauties of art and nature to teach man the way to heaven.
These ways of spending Sunday have never yet conferred moral or spiritual good in any place where they have been tried. They have been tried for hundreds of years in Italy, in Germany and in France. Sunday amusements and sport have been long tried in Continental cities. But what benefiit have they derived that we should wish to imitate them? What advantages have we to gain by making a London Sunday like a Sunday in Paris or other continental cities. It would be a change for the worse, and not for the better.
Last, but not least, these ways of spending Sunday inflict a cruel injury on the souls of multitudes of people, Public transport cannot be run on Sundays without employing thousands of persons if people will make Sunday a day for travelling and excursions. Entertainments cannot be opened on Sundays without the employment of many to cater for those who patronise them. And have not all these unfortunate persons immortal souls? Do they not all need a, day of rest as much as anyone else? Beyond doubt they do. But Sunday is no Sunday to them, so long as these public desecrations of the Sabbath are permitted. Their life becomes a long unbroken chain of work, work, unceasing work: in short, what is play to others becomes death to them. Away with the idea that a pleasure-seeking, Continental Sabbath is mercy to anyone! It is nothing less than an enormous fallacy to call it so. Such a Sabbath is real mercy to nobody, and is positive sacrifice to some.
I write these things with sorrow. I know well, to how many of my fellow-countrymen they apply. I have spent many a Sunday in large towns. I have seen with my own eyes how the day of the Lord is made by multitudes a day of wordliness, a day of ungodliness, a day of carnal mirth, and too often a day of sin. But the extent of the disease must not prevent us exposing it: the truth must be told.
There is one general conclusion to be drawn from the conduct of those who publicly desecrate the Sabbath in the way I have described. They show plainly that they are at present “without God” in the world. They are like those of old who said, “When will the Sabbath be gone?” — “What a weariness it is!” (Amos 8:5; Mal. 1:13). It is an awful conclusion, but it is impossible to avoid it. Scripture, history, and experience all combine to teach us, that delight in the Lord’s Word, the Lord’s service, the Lord’s people, and the Lord’s Day, will always go together. Sunday pleasure-seekers are their own witnesses. They are every week practically declaring, “We do not like God — we do not want Him to reign over us.