William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 29 of 169)
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favour were conferred, when their books are mptions — remain to be given,
taken off their hands. We think that to secure Before leaving the consideration of Bible
respect to the Bible is even more important societies, we cannot but refer to a very sin-
than to distribute it widely. For this purpose, gular transaction in relation to the Scriptures
its exterior should be attractive. It should in which some of them are thought to be
be printed in a £air, large type, should be well implicated. In some of our cities and villages,
bound, and be provided with a firm case, we are told that the rich as well as the poor
This last provision seems to us especially have been visited for the purpose of ascer^
important The poor have no book-cases, taimng whether the^ own the Bible. The
Their Bibles too often lie on the same shelves object of this domicilianr investigation we
with their domestic utensils : nor can it be profess not to understand. We cannot sin>-
doubted that, when soiled, torn, dishonoured pose that it was intended to lavish on the
by this exposure, they are r^^arded «ith less rich the funds which were contributed for
respect than if protected with peculiar care. spreading the Scriptures among the poor.
We have a still more important remark to One thing we know, that a measure more
make in rdference to Bible societies. In our likelv to irritate and to be construed into an
last nombiu', we noticed an edition of the New insult, could not easily be contrived. As a
Testament recently published in Boston, and sign of the times it deserves our notice. After
differing firom those in common use, by a new this step, it ought not to surprise us should
translation of those passages of the Greek an Inquisition be established, to ascertain who
original, of which the true reading was lost or among us observe, and who neglect, the
neglected when the received English version duties of private and family prayer. We
was made. This edition of the New Testament might smile at this spirit, comd we tell where
we stated to be undoubtedly morecorrect, more it would stop. But it is essentially prying,
conformed to the original, than our common restless, and encroaching, and its first move-
editions. On this point we speak strongly, ments ought to be withstood,
because we wish to call to it the attention of We now proceed to another class of asso-
Bible societies, and of all conscientious Chris- ciations— those which are designed to promote
tians. To such we say.— Here is a translation the observance of the Sabbath. The motives
undoubtedly more faithful to the original than which gave birth to these we respect. But
that in common use. You have here in greater we doubt the rectitude and usefulness of the
purity what Jesus Christ said, and what his object, and we fear that what has begun in
AfKMtles wrote ; and, if so, you are bound by conscientiousness may end in intolerance and
your allegiance to Christ to substitute this for oppression. We cannot say of these assoda-
the conmion translation. We know that un- tions, as of those which we have just noticed,
educated Christians cannot settle this question, that the^ aim at an unquestionable good.
We therefore respectfully, and with solemnity, about which all good men agree. Not a few
solicit for it the attention of learned men, of of the wisest and best men dissent from the
Christian ministers, of professors of theology principle on which these societies are built,
of every sect and name. We ask for the namely, that the Jewish Sabbath is binding
calmest and most deliberate investigation, and on Christians. Not a few of the profoundest
if, as we believe, there shall be but one opinion divines and most exemplarv followen of
as to the claims of the version which we have Christ have believed, and stiU believe, that
recommended; if all must acknowledge that the Sabbath enjoined in the fourth command-
it renders ipore faithfully the words of the ment is a part of Judaism, and not of the
inspired and authorized teachers of Chris- Gospel; that it is essentially different from
tianity, then we see not how it can be denied he Lord's-day ; and that to enforce it on
the reception and diffusion which it deserves. Christians is to fall into that error which Paul
We conceive that, to Bible societies, this withstood even unto death— the error of adul-
is a great question, and not to be evaded terating Christianity by mixtures of a pre-

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paratofy and very hiferior religion. We beg
to be understood. All Christians, whom we
know, concur in the opinion and the desire
that the Lord's-day, or the first day of the
week, shotild be separated to the commemo-
mtion of Christ's reBurrectkm, to publk: wor-
ship, to public Christian instrucuon, and in
general to what are called the means of rdi-
gion. This we {[rat^bUy accept and honour
as a Christian rite. But not a few believe
that the Lord's-day and the ancient Sabbatlk
are not the same institution, and ought not to
be eofifbufided ; that the former is of a nobler
character, and more important than the
latter; and that the mode of obsenringit is
to be determined by the spirit and purposes
of Christianity, and not by anypreceding law.
This is a question about which Christians
have diflfered for ages. We certainly wish
that it may be debated till it is settled. But
we grieve to see a questionable doctrine made
the foundation of large societies, and to see
Christians leagued to pass the sentence of
irreligion on men equally virtuous with them-
selves, and who perhaps better imderstand
the mind of Christ in regard to the Sabbath.
We know that it is confidently affirmed that
Ood, at an eariier period than the Jewi^ law,
enjoined the Sabbath as a perpetu^a, universal,
irrepealable law for the whole human race.
But can this position be Sustained ? For our-
selves, we cannot see a Jiaoe of it in the
Scriptures — those only sure records of God*s
revelation to mankind. We do. Indeed, incline
to believe— w^t many wise men have ques-
tioned — that there are appearances of the
institution of the Sabbath at the beginning
of the human laoe. We know that these are
faint and few ; 3ret we attach importance to
them, becattse nature and reason fovour the
supposition of a time having been set apart
from the first as a religious memorial. Wlulst,
however, we incline to this view as most pro-
bable, we see DO proofe of the perpetuity of
the institution in the circumstance of its eariy
origin. On the contrary, an ordinance or
rite, given in the infancy of the human race,
may be presumed to be tempontfy, unless its
uncfaangeableness is expressly tmight, or is
necessarily implied in its very nature. The
}io6itive or ritual religion, whieh was adapted
to the earlier, can hardly suit the roatuiier
periods of the race. Man is a progressive
being, afid needs a progressive religion. It
is one of the most interesting and beautiful
featuies of the Sacred Writings, and one of
the strong evidences of their truth, that ther
reveal reUgion as a growing light, and mani-
fest the DtVlne Legislator as adapting Him-
self to the various and successive conditions
of the worid. Allowing, then, the Sabbath to
bflive been given to Adam, we could no move
infer iu peffJMtuity than we caa infer the per-

petuity of capital ptmishment, as an ordinance
of God, because He said to Noah, the second
parent of the human race, "Whoso sheddeth
man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

Our opinion leans, as we have said, to the
early institution of the Sabbath ; but, we re-
peat it, the presimiptions on which our iudg-
ooents rest are too imcenain to authorise
confidence, much less denunciation. The
greater part of the early Fathers of the
Church, according to Calmet, believed that
the law of the Sabbath was not given before
Moses ; and this, as we have ct>served. is the
opinion of some of the roost judicious and
pious Christians of later times. Whilst dis-
posed to differ from these, we fSfeel that the
subject is to be left to the calm decision of
individuals. We want no array of numbers
to settle a doubtfnl question. One thing is
plain, that, before Moses, not one precept is
given in relation to the Sabbath, nor a hint of
its uncfaangeableness to the end of the world.
One thing is plain, that the question of the
perpetuity of this institution is to besettted by
the teachings of Jesus Christ, the great Pro-
phet, who alone is authorized to determine
how far the institutions of religion which pre-
ceded him are binding on his followers. For
ourselves, we ate followers of Christ, and not
of Moses, or Noah, or Adam. We can our-
selves Christians, and the Gospel is octr
only rule. Nothing in the Old Testament
binds us, any further than it is recognised by,
or incorporated into, the New. The mat
and only question, then, is, Does the New
Testament, does Christianity, impose on us
the ancient Sabbath ?

To aid us in settling this question, we may
first inquire into the nature and design of this
institution; and nothing can be plainer.
Words cannot make it clearer. According
to the Old Testament, the seventh, or last day
of the week, was to be set apart, or sanctified,
as a day of rest, in commemoration of God's
having rested on that day from the work of
creation.* The distinguishing feature of the •
institution is rest. The word Sabbath means
rest. The event to be commemorated was
rest The reason for selecting the seventh

• W*betourra«dentoob«erTethat«T«renowiiinply
stating the acxount of the Sabbath which b given u the
Old Testnment. H««w tWs account is to be interpreted is a
question not involved ia our present suUect. we womd,
bowever, observe that the rest here ascribed to God must
be understood hi a Sgvrative sense. Propeitjr speaking,
God. who is iscapable of faijgne, aad whose ahnl^ty
agency is uiu«a^ng, never rests. In finishing the vork of
creation. He did not shxk Into repose, or for a moment
ikabt from the eMrdse ok Uft otwopotence. A |»>tlcutar
node of his agency was discontinaed t aad, to accommf^
da^on to an uncultivated age, thb discontinuance wat
caDed rest. It seems to us, that the Sabbath bear* one
marie of a ten^^orary institution, in tba fact of \tm b^i«
founded oa a represenUtion of God which is true only in
a figuraUve or popular seasa, and wlUch gives tometSng
like a shock to a mind which has oulfed its conccptioai
Of the Divbaty. Such an Institution do«s not carry tb«
fanpresB of a perpetod and Mlvcfael law.

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was, that this had been to the Creator a day
of rest. The chief method prescribed for sanc-
tifying the day was rest. The distinctive
character of the institution could not have
been more clearly expressed. Whoever reads
the foiurth commandment will see that no
mode of setting apart the day to God is there

S escribed, except in imitation of his rest,
ow far this constituted the sanctification of
the Sabbath will be seen from such passages as
the following : — " You shall keep the SaM>ath,
for it is hc^y unto you. Every one that defileth
it shall surely be put to death. For whosoever
doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut
off from among his people." * A still more
remarkable proof that the sanctification of
the Sabbath consisted in resting after the
example of God, is furnished by Christ, who
says that "on the Sabbath-days the priests in
the Templtprq/ane the Sabbath.' ' f So essen-
tial was rest to the hallowing of that day, that
the work of offering victims, though prescribed
by God Himself, is said to profane it. There
are indeed some expressions of Moses, in-
dicating other methods of observing the day,
for he calls it "a holy convocation; " but
whether this phrase applies to other places
besides the Temple is uncertain. It is not
Improbable, indeed, that the people resorted
to the Levites and Prophets on the Sabbath
rather than other days, — ^but we find no pre-
cept to this effect ; and it is well known that
no synagogues or places of worship were built
through J udea tmtil after the captivity. Rest,
then, was the great distinction of the day.
This constituted it a memorial, and gave it its
name; and we conceive that the chief stress
was ikid on this circumstance, because the
Sabbath was intended to answer a him:iane
as well as religious end; that is, to give relief
to persons in servitude, and to inferior animals,
a provision very much needed in an unrefined
and semi-barbarous age, when slaverv had no
ac^owledged rights, and when little mercy
was shown to man or beast. In conformity,
to these views, we find the Jewish nation
always regarding the Sabbath as a jojrfiil day-—
a festival. In the time of Christ, we find him
bidden to a feast on the Sabbath-day, and
accepting the invitation ; | and our impression
is, that now, as in past times, the Jews divide
the day between the synagogue and social

The nature and end of the Sabbath cannot
be easily misunderstood. It was the seventh
or last day of the week, set apart by God as a
day of rest, in imitation and in commemoration
of his having rested on that day from the
creation. That other religious observances
were with great propriety introduced into the
day, and that they were multiplied with the

« EMd.S9Ed.u;«tooJ#r-3n1l.«>i fMatt.sfl.S>
^ LulMsir.

TOx>gress of the nation, we do not doubt
but the distinctive observance, and the only
one expressly enjoined on the whole people,
was rest. Now we ask. Is the dedication olf
the seventh or last day of the week to rest, in
remembrance of God s resting on that day, a
part of the Christian rdigion? The answer
seems to us plain. We affirm, in the first
place, what none will contradict, that this
institution is not enjoined in the New Testa-
ment, even by the fi&intest hint or implication;
and, in the next place, we maintain that the
Christian world, so far from finding it there,
have by their practice disowned its authority.

This last position may startle some of our
readers. But it is not therefore less true. We
maintahi that the Christian world have
in practice disowned the obligation of the
Sabbath established by the fourth oommand-
ment There is, indeed, a body of Christians
called Sabbatarians, who strictly and reli-
giously observe the fourth commandment.
Bu t they are a handful; they are lost, swal-
lowed upin tJieinunensemajorityof Chrbtians,
who have for ages ceased to observe the
Sabbath prescribed from Sinai. TrtM^ Chris-
tians have their sacred day, which they call a
Sabbath. But is it in truth the ancient
Sabbath? Wesav, no; and we call attention
to this point. The ancient Sabbath, as we
have seen, was the last day of the week, set
apart for rest in commemoration of God's
resting on that day. And is the first day of
the week, a day ot^rved in remembrance of
Christ's resurrecdon from the dead, the same
institution with this^ Can broader marks
between two ordinances be conceived? Is it
possible that they can be confounded? It
not the ancient Sabbath renounced by the
Christian world? Have we not thus the
testimony of the Christian worid to its having
passed awa^ ? Who of us can consistently
plead for it as a universal and perpetual

We know that it is said that the ancient
Sabbath remains untouched ; that Christianity
has only removed it from the last to the first
day of the week, and that this is a slight,
unessential change, leaving the old institution
whole and unbroken. To this we have
several rq>lics. In the first place, this change
of days which Christianity b supposed to
make is not unessential, but vital, and sub-
versive of the ancient institution. The end
of the ancient Sabbath was the commeBK)ra-
tion of God's resting from his works, and for
this end, the very day of the week on which
He rested was most wisely selected. Now we
maintain, that to select the first day of the
week, the very dav on which He began his
works, and to select and separate this in
commemoration of another event — of Christ's
resurrection, is wholly to set aside the ancient

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Sabbath. We cannot conceive of a more
essentia] departure from the original ordi-
nance. This substitution, as it is called, is a
literal as well as virtual abolition. Such is
our first remark. — ^We say, secondly, that not
a word is uttered in the New Testament of
the first day being substituted for the seventh.
Surely so striking a change would not have
been made in a universal and perpetual law
of God without some warning. We ask for
some hint of this modification of the fourth
commandment. We find not a syllable. —
We say, thirdly, that the first Christians knew
nothing of this substitution. Our evidence
here is complete. The first converts to Chris-
tianity were Jews, and these converts had at
first no conception of the design of Chris-
tianity to supersede the law of Moses. This
law they continued to observe for years, and
to obsCTve it as rigorously as ever. When
Paul visited Jerusalem, after many labours
among the Gentiles, the elders said unto him,
"Thou seest, brother, how many thousands
of Jews there are which believe, and they are
all zealous of the law."* Of course they all
observed the Jewish Sabbath or seventh day of
rest, the greatest of Jewish festivals, whilst,
as we all believe, they honoured also the first
day — the remembrancer of Christ's resurrec-
tion. This state of things existed for years
in the primitive chureh. The two dajrs were
observed together. Nothing more seems
necessary to disprove unanswerably the com-
mon doctrine that the Apostles enjoined the
substitution of the first for the seventh day. —
We will add one more argument. Paul
commands the Colossian Christians to dis-
regard the censures of those who judged or
condemned them for not observing the Sab-
bath. •• Let no man judge you in meat, or
in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of
the new moon, or of the Sabbath days."f
This passage is very plain. It is evaded, how-
ever, by the plea that the word "Sabbath"
was used to express not only the seventh day,
but other festivals or days of rest. But when
we recollect that the word is used by Paul in
this place without any exception or limitation,
and that it was employed at that time, most
frequently and almost wholly, to express the
seventh day, or weekly Sabbath, we shall see
that we have the strongest reason for suppos-
ing this institution to be intended by the
Apostle. That a Christian, after reading this
passage, should "judge" or condemn his
orethren for questioning or rejecting his par-
ticular notion of the ^bbath, is a striking
Eroof of the slow progress of tolerant ana
beral principles among men. We need not
add, after these remarks, how unjustifiable
we deem it to enforce particular modes of

• Actsxxi.Mb


observing this day, by an array of associa-

Having thus stated what seem to us strong
reasons against the perpetuity of the ancient
Sabbath, perhaps some of our readers may
wish to know our views of the Lord's-day,
and, although the subject may seem foreign
to the present article, we will give our opinion
in a few words. We believe that the first day
of the week is to be set apart for the public
worship of God, and for the promotion of the
knowledge and practice of Christianity, and
that it was selected for this end in honour of
the resiurection of Christ. To this view we
are led by the following considerations : —
Wherever the Gospel was preached, its pro-
fessors were formed into churches or congre-
gations, and ministers were appointed for
their instruction or edification. Wherever
Christianity was planted, societies for joint
religious acts and improvement were insti-
tuted, as the chief means of establishing and
diffusing it. Now it is plain that for these
purposes regular times must have been pre-
scribed ; and, accordingly, we find that it was
the custom of the primitive Christians to hold
their religious assemblies on the first day of
the week — the day of Christ's resurrection.
This we learp from the New Testament, and
from the universal testimony of the earliest
ages of the church. Wherever Christianity
was spread, the first day was established as
the season of Christian worship and instruc-
tion. Such are the grounds on which this
institution rests. We regard it as altogether
a Christian institution, — as having its origin
in the Gospel, — as peculiar to the new dis-
pensation ; and we conceive that the proper
observation of it is to be determined wholly
bv the spirit of Christianity. We meet in the
New Testament no precise rules as to the
mode of spending the Lords-day, as to the
mode of worship and teaching, as to the
distribution of the time not given to public
services. And this is just what might be
expected ; for the Gospel is not a religion
of precise rules. It differs from Judaism in
nothing more than in its free character. It
gives great principles, broad views, general,
prolific, all-comprehensive precepts, and en-
trusts the application of them to the individual.
It sets before us the perfection of our nature,
the spirit which we should cherish, the virtues
which constitute "the kingdom of heaven
within us," and leaves us to determine for
ourselves, in a great measure, the discipline
by which these noble ends are to be secured.
Let no man, then, bind what Christ has left
free. The modes of worship and teaching on
the Lord's-dav are not prescribed, and who
will say that they cannot be improved ? One
reason of the neglect and limited influence of
this institution is that, as now observed, it

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does not correspond sufficiently to the wants fidthful to himself and his family, ungrateful
of our times ; and we fear that it might even to Providence, and superetitioiis, who should
fdl into contempt among the cultivated, lose a crop rather than harvest it during the
sbonkl attempts be prosecuted to carnr it portion of time ordinarily set apart for Chris*
bock to the superstitious rigour by whicn it tian worship. On these points Christianity
was degraded m a former age. has left us free. The individual must be his

The associations for promoting the obser- own judge, and we deprecate the attempts of
vance of the Sabbath propose several objects, societies to legislate on this indefinite subject
in which, to a certain extent, we heartily con- for their fellow-Christians,
cur, but which, from their nature, are not Another purpose of the associations of
susceptible of precise definition or regfulation, which we speak is to stop the mail on Sunday,
and which, therefore, ought to be left where On this point a great difference of opinion
Christianity has left them, to the consciences prevails among the most conscientious men.
of individuals. They undoubtedly intend to It mav be remembered that, in a former num-
discountenance labour on Sunday. Now, ber of this work, there was an article on the
generally speaking, abstinence from labour Sabbath, discouraging this attempt to inter-
seems to us a plain duty of the day ; for rupt the mail. V^t think it right to say, that
we see not how its ends can otherwise be among the contributors to this work, and
accomplished to an^ considerable extent, among its best friends, a diversity of sentiment
We do not believe, mdeed, that this absti- exists in regard to this difficult question. In
nence was rigidly practised by the first one respect, however, we all agree ; and that
Christians at Jerusalem, who, as we have is, in the inexpediency of organizing, in op«
seen, gave up the seventh day to entire position to the Sunday mail, a vast associa-
rest, and whose social duties could hardly tion, which may be easily perverted to political
have admhted the same appropriation of purposes, which, from its very object, will be
the following day. Neither do we believe tempted to meddle with government, and
that the converts who were made among which, by setting up a concerted and joint
the class of slaves in heathen countries, cry, may overpower and load with reproach
abstained from labour on the first day olf the most conscientious men in the community,
the week ; for, in so doing, they would Another purpose of these associations is
have exposed themselves to the severest to discourage travelling on the Lord's-day.
punishments, even to death, and we have Nothing can well be plainer than that unne-
BO intimation that this portion of believers cessary travelling on this day is repugnant to

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 29 of 169)