William Lloyd Garrison.

Selections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. online

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regarded as a frowning Gibraltar, inaccessible by sea and
land, filled with troops and all warlike instruments, and able
to vanquish every assailing force. This is an evidence of


weakness, instead of strength. It shows that the whole
scope of the gospel is found to be at variance with the dogma
respecting governments which men entertain ; else, would
they not freely quote that gospel in support of their views ?
He who pertinaciously clings to a particular passage of
scripture to uphold a favorite theory, and is always dwelling
upon it, and refuses to compare scripture with scripture, so
that that which is ' hard to be understood,' or is of doubtful
interpretation, may be clearly apprehended, does virtually
acknowledge that the mass of evidence is against him.
Hence it is that so many divisions exist in the nominal
church, and so many foolish heresies obtain in the world.
In this manner do the advocates of slavery run to the pas-
sage, ' And they shall be your bondmen and bond-maids for
ever,' to justify that atrocious system. So, also, do the lov-
ers of wine invariably adduce the advice of Paul to Timothy,
' to take a little wine for the stomach's sake,' as authority to
prove the unsoundness of the doctrine of total abstinence.
In like manner have the champions of despotic govern-
ments, in various ages, urged the 13th chapter of Romans,
to prove the divine authority of ' the powers that be,' and
the duty of the people to obey them in all cases. So, too,
is the same portion of scripture relied upon by those who
cannot adopt the principles of non-resistance, to sanction the
infliction of pains and penalties upon enemies.

The object of the apostle was two-fold in his allusion to
' the powers that be.' The first was, simply, to recognise
their existence, as a matter of fact ; and the second was, to
inculcate upon Christians their obligation to lead quiet and
peaceable lives, — not to be seditious, ' patriotic,' or revenge-
ful, however cruel the despot or tyrannical the control. He
recognised them as ' ministers of God for good,' in a provi-
dential sense ; just as the Lord makes the wrath of man to
praise him, and the remainder he restrains. But, ' let the


dead bury their dead.' If the wicked will not cease from
their wickedness, for self-preservation they will establish
governments to ndc over them, with more or less severity,
according to their deserts. But, to every disciple, the lan-
guage of Christ is, ' What is that to thee ? Follow thou
me ! ' Let the potsherds of the earth strive together, if
they will ; out of their violence good shall be educed ; but
be thou wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove. The
kingdom to which thou be longest is one in which no carnal
weapons arc allowed to be wielded, no detriment to the
mind, body or estate of thine enemy is lawful. ' Be thou
faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.'

It is objected, that, in the present state of the world, it
would not be safe to let transgressors go without punishment.
They must be punished, in order to arrest the direful pro-
gress of human guilt and disorder. But it is in the present
state of the world, that Christ has enjoined the forgiveness
of enemies. In a different state, there can be no opportu-
nity for forgiveness ; because all crime will have ceased,
and there will be none to molest or to make afraid. The
principles and obligations of Christianity belong not to a
future age, but are of present and immutable application.

The existing governments of the world are the conse-
quence of disobedience to the commands of God. But
Christ came to bring men back to obedience, by a new and
living way. When the cause is taken away, must not the
effect cease ? And in suffering and dying, that the cause
might be destroyed, has Fie not aimed to destroy the effect ?
' Governments cannot beallowed, if that which is necessary to
the existence of government is prohibited.' Prisons, swords,
muskets and soldiers are necessary to uphold governments
which punish evil-doers by fines, imprisonment, and death.
But these are prohibited by Christ ; therefore, govcrnmcnta
of force are prohibited to his followers.


Thou, by whom Eternal Life is given,

Through Jesus Christ, thy -Nvell-beloved Son ;
As is thy will obeyed by all in heaven.

So let it now by all on earth be done !
Not by th' observance of one day in seven

As holy time, but of all days as one ;
The soul set free — all legal fetters riven —

Vanished the law — the reign of grace begun !
Dear is the Christian Sabbath to my heart,

Bound by no forms — from times and seasons free
The whole of life absorbing — not a part ;

Perpetual rest and perfect liberty : —
Who keeps not this steers by a Jewish chart,

And sails in peril on a storm-tossed sea !

^tnal (!)lIs^nIlut^Df i^t lnttntji.

The right of every man to worship God according to the
dictates of his own conscience is inherent, inalienable, self-
evident. Yet it is notorious, that in all the States, excepting
Louisiana, there are laws enforcing the religious observance


punishing as criminals such as attempt to pursue their usual
avocations on that day — avocations which even Sabbatari-
ans recognise as innocent and laudable on all other days.
It is true, some exceptions are made to the rigorous opera-
tion of these laws, in favor of the Seventh Day Baptists,
Jews, and others, who keep the seventh day of the week as
the Sabbath ; but this freedom is granted in condescension
to the scruples of a particular sect, as a privilege, and not


recognised as a natural right. For those, (and the number
is large and steadily increasing,) who believe that the Sab-
bath was exclusively a Jewish institution, — a ' shadow of
good things to come,' which vanished eighteen hundred
years ago before the light of the Christian Dispensation, and,
therefore, that it constitutes no part of Christianity, — there
is no exemption from the j)enalty of the Imv ; but, should
they venture to labor even for bread on that day, or be
guilty of what is called ' Sabbath desecration,' they are "lia-
ble either to fine or imprisonment ! Cases of this kind have
occurred in Massachusetts, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and
Ohio, within a comparatively short period, w^here conscien-
tious and upright persons have been thrust into prison, for
an act no more intrinsically heinous than that of gathering
in a crop of hay, or selling moral or philanthropic publica-
tions. There is, therefore, no liberty of conscience allowed
to the people of this country, under the laws thereof in
regard to the observance of a Sabbath day.

Now, I enter iny solemn protest against every enactment
of this kind, as at war with the genius of republicanism, and
the spirit of Christianity. I believe and affirm —

That the Sabbath, according to the Jewish Scriptures, was
given to ' the children of Israel^'' — and to no other peo-
ple, — as ' a sign'' between them and God, and terminated,
with all the other Mosaic rituals belonging to the ' ministra-
tion of deaths written and engraven in stones,' on the
introduction of ' the ministration of the Spirit,' and the
substitution of ' a better covexNant, which was established
upon better promises ' ; —

That Christianity knows nothing of a holy day, but only
of a holy life, the possession of a spirit of love which works
no ill, and is ' the fulfilling of the law ' ; —

That the worship of God does not pertain to any par-
ticular day — is not a special, isolated performance —
and cannot 'come by observation' — but is purely spir-


itual in its nature, and comprehended in a cheerful obe-
dience to the will of the Father, as far as it is made
known ; —

That the distinction made between sacred and secular
acts, by the advocates of Sabbath keeping, — the sacred being
the strict performance of religious observances, and the secu-
lar such as undoing heavy burdens, letting the oppressed go
free, reclaiming the drunkard, laboring in the field or in the
work-shop, public travelling, transporting the United States
mail, — is a distinction not based upon reason or Christianity,
but calculated to lower the tone of individual and public
morality, and to depress the immutable standard of moral
obligation ; —

That the Sabbath, as now recognised and enforced, is one
of the main pillars of Priestcraft and Superstition, and the
stronghold of a merely ceremonial religion; —

That, in the hands of a Sabbatizing clergy, it is a mighty
obstacle in the way of all the reforms of the age, such as
Anti-Slavery, Peace, Temperance, Purity, Human Brother-
hood, &c. &c., and rendered adamantine in its aspect towards
bleeding Humanity, whose cause must not be pleaded, but
whose cries must be stifled, on its ' sacred ' recurrence ; —

That they who are for subjecting to fine or imprisonment,
such as do not receive their interpretation of the Scriptures,
in regard to the observance of the first day of the week as
the Sabbath, are actuated by a mistaken or malevolent
spirit, which is utterly at variance with the spirit of Christ —
which, in various ages, has resorted to the dungeon, the
rack, the gallows and the stake, for the accomplishment of
its purposes, and which ought to be boldly confronted and
rebuked ; —

That the penal enactments of the State Legislature, com-
pelling the observance of the first day of the week as the
Sabbath, are despotic, unconstitutional, and ought to be
immediately abrogated ; and that the interference of the


State, in matters of religious faith and ceremonies, is a usur-
pation which cannot be justified ; —

That, as conflicting views prevail in the community, which
are cherished with equal sincerity, respecting the holiness of
days, and as it is the right of every class of citizens to be
protected in the enjoyment of their religious sentiments on
this and every other subject pertaining to the worship of
God, all classes should be united in demanding a repeal of
the enactments alluded to, on the ground of impartial justice.
and Christian charity ; —

That if the Legislature may rightfully determine the day
on which the people shall abstain from labor for religious
purposes, it may also determine the place in which they
shall assemble, the rites and ordinances which they shall
observe, the doctrines which they shall hear, the teachers
which they shall have over them, and the peculiar faith
which they shall embrace ; and thus entirely subvert civil
and religious freedom, and enable Bigotiy and Superstition,
as of old, to

* Go to their bloody rites again — bring back
The hall of horrors, and th' assessor's pen,
Recording answers shriek'd upon the rack —
Smile o'er the gaspings of spine-broken men,
And perpetrate damnation in their den ! '

That, as it has been found safe, politic and beneficial, to
allow the people to decide for themselves in all other reli-
gious observances, there is no reason to doubt that the same
good results would attend their liberation from the bondage
of a Sabbatical law ; —

That, under the Christian dispensation, it is a Jewish char-
acteristic to talk of sacred days, places, rites and ceremo-
nies ; for these, at their highest value, are only means to an
end, to bo used, modified or repudiated, according to cir-


cumstances — and that end is, the benefit of man: hence,
man is the only object that should be regarded as sacred on
earth ; —

That as it is a sound rule of law, which excludes the tes-
timony of one who is directly and strongly interested in a
case on trial ; so it is equally just, when a Sabbatical institu-
tion is before the Court of Reason for adjudication, to rule
out the declarations of a body of men in regard to it, who,
filling clerical and priestly ofiices, depend on its alleged
sanctity and rigid observance for their employment, remu-
neration, influence and power ; —

That the attempt to frighten the ignorant and unenlight-
ened into a belief, that God frequently suspends the natural
laws of the universe, and miraculously interferes to punish
with blasting judgments such as engage in labor or recrea-
tion on the first day of the week — upsetting them in boats
on the water, overturning them in vehicles on the land,
burning their dwellings and barns, rendering barren and
unproductive their farms, visiting with grievous sickness
their persons, or smiting them or their cattle to the earth
with a bolt from heaven — is either superstitious error or
bold effrontery ; for it not only expressly contradicts the
declaration of Jesus, that God ' causeth his sun to rise on
the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and
on the unjust' — that we can be the ' children of our Father
who is in heaven,' only by returning good for evil, and
blessing for cursing — but it is disproved by universal expe-
rience and observation, as such incidents are common to
every day of the week alike, and are not in any manner
aflTected by the fact that it is the first, any more than that it
is the last day of the week, on which they occur ; —

That they, who resort to such a mode of establishing
their Sabbatical assumption, give indubitable proof that they
are either grossly superstitious, or designedly fraudulent ;


Straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel — or, for a pre-
tence, making long prayers, and devouring widows' houses ; —

That as it is not pretended, that such extraordinary and
special judgments attend the violation of other commands
in the Decalogue, it follows, according to the logic of the
Sabbatarians, that the fourth commandment is of more value
than the other nine ; so that, in the sight of God, it is incom-
parably more offensive to indulge in work or recreation on
the Sabbath, than it is to w^orship idols, to dishonor father
and mother, to lie, steal, commit adultery, and murder ; —

That, as the duty of observing the first day of the week
is not enjoined either in the second chapter of Genesis, or
the twentieth chapter of Exodus, or in any other portion of
the Old Testament, any reference to the Jewish scriptures,
in support of such observance, is not only impertinent, but
condemnatory of the present general practice ; for the old
Hebrew injunction runs, ' The seventh day is the Sabbath ' ; —

That the prescriptive spirit of modern Sabbatarians is the
more severely to be censured, inasmuch as not an intimation
is to be found in the New Testament, that the first day of
the week is to be regarded as the Sabbath, instead of the
seventh : nor is Sabbath-breaking, whether relating to the
first or seventh day, in any instance recognised or reproved
by Christ or his Apostles as a sin, nor do they inculcate any
principle involving such recognition or reproof ; —

That it is perfectly in character for those religious bodies,
on both sides of the Atlantic, who care nothing for the des-
ecration of man^ to be deeply concerned for the sanctity of
a day ; —

That a Sabbatizing clergy, in resisting, as far as practica-
ble, every great reformatory movement, and in protesting
against the advocacy of the cause of the slave, of peace,
of temperance, of labor, of human brotherhood, on the first
day of the week, as a desecration of the day, and injurious


to the interests of religion, have revealed themselves in their
true character as ' wolves in sheep's clothing,' and done
more to bring their ' holy day ' into contempt than any other
class of men ; —

That the innocence or criminality of any act is not to be
determined by the day on which it is performed, but depends
upon its intrinsic character, and the motives with which it is
done ; and whatever it is right to do on one day, it is right
to do on any day ; therefore.

That it is as innocent an act to plough in the field, to fish
on the sea, to work in the shop, to ride in the railroad car,
to indulge in recreation and amusement, on the first as on
any other day of the week.

Of all the assumptions on the part of legislative bodies,
that of interfering between a man's conscience and his God
is the most insupportable, and the most inexcusable. For
what purpose do we elect men to the General Court ? Is
it to be our lawgivers on religious matters ? Shall we ask
of that body when we may work, how we may work, or
where we may work ? Is it a part of its constitutional
power and prerogative to determine that point for us ? This
passing a law, forbidding me or you to do on a particular
day, what is in itself right, on the ground that that day, in
the judgment of those who make the enactment, is more
holy than another ; this exercise of power, I affirm, is noth-
ing better than sheer usurpation. It is the spirit which in
all ages has persecuted those who have been loyal to God
and their consciences. It is a war upon conscience, and no
religious conclave or political assembly ever yet carried on
that war successfully to the end. You cannot, by any enact-
ments, bind the consciences of men, nor force men into obe-
dience to what God requires.

Who wants to be persecuted on account of his own con-
scientious views ? I will ask the first day Sabbatarian — do


you claim a right to entertain your views, without molesta-
tion, in regard to the holiness of time ? ' Most assuredly.'
How do you make it out that the first day of the week is the
Sabbath ? ' I believe it to be so ; and if it is not, to my own
master I stand or fall. Under a government which avowed-
ly tolerates all beliefs, I claim the right, as a first day Sab-
batarian, to keep that day as the Sabbath.' Well, I do not
assail that right. I claim the right also to have my own
views of the day ; the right to sanctify the first, second, or
third, or all days, as I think proper. Now, I turn to the first
day Sabbatarian, and ask him how he dares to assume infal-
lible judgment against my belief; how he dares to dictate to
me to keep the day which he regards as holy, and to say,
' If you do not obey me, I will put my hands into your
pocket, and take out as much as I please in the shape of a
fine ; or if I find nothing there, I will put you in prison ; or
if you resist so far as to require it, I will shoot you dead ' >
Talk of the spirit of justice animating the bosom of the
man who comes like a highwayman with, ' Do, or rf/<^ / *
Who made him a ruler over other men's consciences ? In
a government which is based on equality, we must have
equal rights. No men, however sincere, are to wield force-
ful authority over others who dissent from them, in regard
to religious faith and observance. The case is so plain, that
it does not need an argument ; and I am confident that, in
the course of a few years, there will not be a Sabbatical
enactment left unrepealed in the United States, if in any
part of Christendom. It belongs to the tyrannical legislation
which formerly sent men to the stake, in the name of God
and for his glory, because they did not agree in the theologi-
cal views of those who burnt them to ashes.

In this country, one pharisaical restriction after another,
imposed by legislation, has been erased from the statute
book, in the progress of religious freedom. We now come


to this Sabbatical observance, as the last, perhaps, — a very
formidable one, at any rate. If it be of God, it does
not need legislation to uphold it. There is no power which
can prevail against it. If it is founded in the nature of man,
and in the wants of animals, — as its advocates declare, —
then, of course, it is safe, and human nature will triumph.
On the other hand, if it be merely a traditional usage,
enforced upon us artfully, in the name of Christ, though of
Jewish origin, it is for you and me, if we profess to be fol-
lowers of Christ, or lovers of freedom, to speak the truth in
regard to it, and deny that it has any special claim to reli-
gious veneration.

Why should we attempt to legislate upon a question of
this kind ? Observe how many differences of opinion pre-
vail, honestly and sincerely, in the world, respecting it !
Does any one doubt that the Seventh Day Baptists are sin-
cere ? Are they not honest, courageous, self-sacrificing
men, those who stand out against the law and public sen-
timent, for conscience' sake ? The men, even though they
err, who are true to their consciences, cost what it may,
are, after all, those who are ever nearest to the kingdom of
God. They desire only to know what is right, and they
have the spirit in them to do what is right. The great mass
of first day Sabbatarians, — do they not claim to be consci-
entious and sincere ? And the Quakers, who regard no day
as in itself, or by divine appointment, more holy than anoth-
er, — who will question their honesty or sincerity in this
matter? Here, then, are widely conflicting sentiments;
but which of these parties shall resort to the arm of violence
to enforce uniformity of opinion ?

By that infaUible test of conscious rectitude which Jesus
gave to his disciples — ' Whatsoever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye even so to them,' — let those who
Sabbatize on the first dav of the week be measured. At


present, they constitute the majority, we the minority, in this
country ; hence, the legislative power is in their hands,
which they do not scruple to use for the purpose of binding
and coercing our consciences. Now, let the case be revers-
ed. Suppose this power were in the hands of those who do
not Sabbatize, and they should proceed to enact penal laws,
forbidding the observance of any day as the Sabbath —
would not the Sabbatarians cry out against such laws as vex-
atious and tyrannical, destructive of the rights of conscience,
and a disgrace to the statute book ?

In this country, we tolerate all religions, but must not tol-
erate all views with regard to a holy day ! Why not ? If
we tolerate the greater, why not the less ? We had better
begin at the beginning. Let us tolerate none but the true
religion, and no other worship than that of a triune God.
Let us have no Jews, no Idolaters, no Catholics ! We are
Protestants; we are evangelical ; ours is the true God, ours
the true religion ; and it is all-important for the welfare of
the world, that the true religion should be promoted. There-
fore, be it enacted by the Legislature, that only the Protes-
tant religion, in its evangelical form, be allowed on the
American soil !

But we do not do this. It is not a crime, in the eye of
the law, for a man to make as many idols as he chooses,
and to worship them. It is not a crime, in the eye of the
law, to reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Time has been,
when it was a capital offence to deny the monstrous dogma
of transubstantiation as held by the Church of Rome, and
the denial carried the heretic to the stake. We tolerate
everything, excepting the opinions of men with regard to
the first day of the week ! Having very successfully gone
thus far, I think we may take the next step, and finish the
whole category of religious edicts enforced by penal laws.
Many doubtless remember what a hue-and-cry was raised


by the religious press and the clergy, at the proposition
to expunge that portion of the Constitution of Massachu-
setts, which required persons to be taxed for the support of
public worship somewhere. But the spirit of religious lib-
erty came up, and said, ' That is tyranny, and the law ought
to be, — ay, must be repealed.' What was the response of
the evangelical press ? ' This is an infidel movement !
This is an attempt to overthrow Christianity ! ' And it
prophesied that, just as surely as the proposed amendment
should be adopted, public worship would be sadly neglected.
Well, the Constitution was altered, in this respect, notwith-
standing this selfish outcry. Is there less of public worship
than formerly ? The clergy have never been so well sus-
tained as they now are, and no one now laments the change.

Now, the outcry raised against the repeal of all Sabbati-
cal laws, as an infidel movement, is as absurd, as preposter-
ous, as libellous, as the other ; and will be found so when
those laws cease to be in force. Tie men up to the idea,

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonSelections from the writings and speeches of William Lloyd Garrison. With an appendix .. → online text (page 8 of 33)