The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Fourth Commandment

... chapter continued from previous file ...

Christianity and the Sabbath

In this analysis of the Fourth Commandment, we make no distinction between the Sabbath of the Hebrews and the "Lord's Day" of the Christians. Both days have the same significance as far as this study is concerned, and the fear attaching to the observance of the one is identical with the restriction placed upon the other. The essence and principle of the Jewish and the Christian Sabbath are identical, says Dean Farrar. [*142]

When Christianity transferred the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, it did not in any way change the taboo associated with its observance; in many respects it intensified the fanaticism. Although Christians called it the "Lord's Day" instead of the Sabbath, the Page 308 word "Sabbath" is still applied to Sunday, despite the fact that there is no Biblical authority whatever for the observance of the first day of the week. That this is but another instance of the Church's long list of deceptive practices is well attested to by the long and bitter controversy that has raged among the different Christian sects regarding Sunday as the Sabbath. The following statement, issued by the Seventh Day Adventists, tells in a degree of the conflict among the "warring Christian sects":

"We believe that the seventh-day Sabbath was instituted at the end of the creation of the world in six literal days; that it is a memorial of creation, and a sign of re-creation, or redemption; that it is a vital part of the moral law, the Ten Commandments; that it is essentially a spiritual institution; that God intended it to be observed in all ages by all men; that Christ and His apostles always, both before and after the crucifixion, observed the seventh-day Sabbath and therefore it is the rest day of all Christians.

"We believe that the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday, was dedicated by ancient paganism to the worship of the sun; that as the Christian church fell away from the true doctrine in the early centuries, the seventh-day Sabbath was gradually displaced by the pagan holiday, Sunday, which, with other pagan institutions, was eventually incorporated into the ecclesiastical law of the Roman Catholic Church, and by her transmitted to the reformed churches; that because it is based on pagan custom and church tradition only, and is nowhere countenanced in the Bible, Christians are in error in observing it as the weekly rest day."

This comment by John Frith, quoted by Dr. Hardwicke, is interesting and important: [*143]

"We are as superstitious about Sunday as they [the Jews] are about their Saturday, yea, we are much more mad; for the Jews have the word of God for their day, since it is the seventh day, and they are commanded to keep it sacred; but we have not the word for us, but rather against us." Page 309

That this controversy is still going on can be gathered from an incident which occurred several years ago. [*144] The Rev. M. S. Banfield, Seventh Day Adventist clergyman, offered $1,000 to the Rev. William M. Ivy, Methodist, if the latter could prove by the Bible that Sunday was the Sabbath day. The wager was accepted and a debate held before a Methodist congregation of six hundred. The Rev. Mr. Ivy used the King James Version to show that Sunday, and not Saturday, was the day to be kept holy, and the congregation voted for him. The Rev. Mr. Banfield, however, refused to pay, saying that he was not yet convinced, whereupon the Rev. Mr. Ivy brought suit!

Regardless of the day, the taboo still exists, which shows how easy it is to impose a superstition, how deeply ingrained it can become, and how difficult it is to eradicate. Not only have the Christians appropriated the Sabbath of the Hebrews, the observance of which was to be a sign between the latter and their God, but they have even intensified the restrictions and made the day more intolerable, impossible as that may seem.

This day was first instituted in the year 321 by Constantine, who spoke of Sunday as "the venerable day of the sun." The Pagans celebrated it as a festival in the religious rites of Mithraism, a sun-worshiping religion. Unable to suppress these pagan celebrations, the early Christians embraced these holidays, gave them Christian significance, and merged them into the religion of Christianity. [*145]

That the early Church Fathers were strenuously opposed to the observance of the Sabbath, and that the early Christians tried to abolish it, is evident from the testimony of the Church itself. Martin Luther was so incensed at its observance as a religious function that he admonished his followers to violate it. John Knox opposed it, as did John Calvin, the latter even threatening to change the weekly day of rest to Thursday, so as to make a distinctly separate day of observance from that of the Romanists. [*146Page 310

All wanted a "sacred" day, however, and they got it. They got it at the point of the sword, and with the bullet, the bars of the prison, and the fires of the stake. It was not until the eighth century that the Church enacted restrictive laws for the observance of this day. [*147] The day began at midnight and ended the following midnight; it was the first and not the seventh day. Both labor and enjoyment were prohibited. It was made a day of worship and prayer, and attendance at church was compulsory.

Under the prohibitions imposed by Christianity, it was almost impossible to move on Sunday without being guilty of some violation of the Sabbath. If anyone were bold enough to agitate against these frightful impositions, he felt the power of Christian authority. In 1661, in London, a Baptist minister was hanged, drawn and quartered, his heart torn out, his quarters affixed to the gates of the city, and his head stuck on top of a pole and set up opposite his meeting house. His crime was speaking against Sabbath observance. [*148]

Children were prohibited from playing or even laughing. It was considered a crime to kiss one's wife or children on that day. It is stated that Charles I was publicly rebuked for laughing on Sunday in Scotland. [*149] Anyone caught whistling had to do penance for disturbing the Sabbath. Traveling was forbidden. Some went so far as to suspend work on both Saturday and Monday because they were so close to Sunday. It was a sin to visit a friend, water the garden, shave, walk in the meadows, sit in the doorway to enjoy the weather, or even sleep on this sacred day that God had prescribed as a day of rest! Bathing, considered pleasant and wholesome, was therefore prohibited on Sunday.

So fanatical was the attitude regarding the Sabbath that on Sunday Christians were not even supposed to think of benefitting others. All their thoughts had to be reserved for the Lord. It was sinful to enjoy one's dinner, for that was pleasure. To think of one's health, Page 311to make oneself comfortable, was contrary to the great object of life, which was to be in a state of constant affliction. Whatever one liked to do was sinful, for merely liking it made it wrong. The primary purpose of the Sabbath was to destroy all human pleasure. It not only accomplished this, but destroyed human affection and dulled the sensibilities. It was considered a sin to help a vessel in distress, for if the ship and the crew perished, that was God's will! Those caught aiding a ship were forced to do penance! [*150]

It was Hippolyte Taine who said that Sunday in London presented the aspect of an immense and well-ordered cemetery, and Stendhal declared that the Sabbath in England and Scotland destroys "the seventh part of possible happiness." [*151]

The Christian has been thoroughly contaminated with this Sabbath superstition; he believes that if it rains on a church outing it is a punishment for some sin. It never occurs to him that perhaps some farmer might be praying for rain to save his parched crops, or that rain is a natural occurrence. In 1908, a relief party in Cape Smith, which was organized one Saturday to go to the rescue of some people stranded in a blizzard, refused to start until early Monday morning. [*152] That the taboos attached to these days are more important than human life is one of the strange insanities of religion.

In England, the Sabbath laws enacted two hundred years ago, though not enforced, are still on the statute books. These laws prohibit meeting for any sports or pastimes whatsoever. Carriers and drivers are forbidden to travel on Sunday. Killing or selling meat is prohibited. Working or exercising is forbidden.

Stringent laws regarding the Sabbath were enacted in our own New England in Puritan days. (No wonder these laws were called blue -- they were enough to change the color of anything. They were, however, called "blue laws" because they were written on blue paper.) The prohibition against working on the Sabbath was strictly Page 312 enforced. A public flogging was the penalty for violation. No food could be cooked, no beds were to be made, cutting hair and shaving were prohibited. A mother could not kiss her child on the Sabbath. Riding on this holy day or walking in the garden was prohibited. Even a sick relative or friend could not be visited if it were necessary to ride to his house. The only thing permitted was to walk "reverently to and from church."

One man was fined for being about on the Sabbath; his excuse that he was running to save a man from drowning did not help him. As late as 1831 a lady was arrested within sight of her father's house and fined for unnecessary travel on a Sunday. To violate these provisions of the Sabbath observance in a manner calculated to "defy" the Lord was punishable with death.

A charge of non-attendance at church was brought against William Bladgen of New Haven in 1647. He pleaded that he had fallen into the water late on Saturday, and since he could not light a fire on Sunday to dry his clothes, he had lain in bed to keep warm while his only suit of garments was drying. His excuse was not accepted, and he was sentenced to be "publicly whipped."

When Captain Kemble returned to Boston in 1656 after a three years' journey, his wife met him on the doorstep, and embraced and kissed him. For this "vulgar" display of human affection on Sunday, he was kept in the public stocks for two hours. [*153]

An incident recorded in the Columbian Centinel of December, 1789, is worth mentioning: "The President [George Washington], on his return to New York from his late tour through Connecticut, having missed his way on Saturday, was obliged to ride a few miles on Sunday morning in order to gain the town at which he had proposed to attend divine service. Before he arrived, however, he was met by a tithing man, who, commanding him to stop, demanded the occasion of his riding; and it was not until the President had informed him of every circumstance and promised to go no further than the town Page 313 intended that the tithing man would permit him to proceed on his journey." [*154]

In 1658, James Watt was reproved reproved "for writing a note about common business on the Lord's Day, at least in the evening somewhat too soon." In 1646, Aquila Chase, of Newbury, and his wife were fined for gathering peas from their own garden on the Sabbath. In 1772, William Estes, of Wareham, acknowledged that he was guilty of raking hay on the Sabbath, and was fined ten shillings. In 1774, another citizen of Wareham was fined for "pulling apples on the Sabbath." A Dunstable soldier, for "wetting a piece of old hat to put in his shoe" to protect his feet, was fined forty shillings. [*155]

Sleeping in church was one of the most common of the many violations of the Sabbath, and the ministers employed many devices to see that members of the congregation remained awake during their sermons. One amusing incident occurred in Maine. The clergyman, observing a parishioner asleep, bided his time, and then suddenly shouted at the top of his voice, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" The sleeping man, instinctively jumping to his feet, startled and blinking, asked, "Where?" The reverend gentleman replied, "In hell, for sleeping sinners." [*156] Another minister, in Brunswick, Maine, had a different method. He would call the name of the man asleep, and tell him pointedly to awake and remain so. On one occasion he shouted, "Wake up, Mr. X," and the napping churchgoer shouted back, "Mind your own business, and go on with your sermon."

A New Haven man was severely whipped and fined for declaring that he received no profit from the minister's sermons. In Windham, in 1729, a most unregenerate citizen was guilty of "vile and slanderous expressions" when he declared that "I would rather hear my dog bark than Mr. Bellamy preach." In 1631, Phillip Ratcliffe, for "speaking against the church," was whipped and had his ears cut off. An extremely wicked man in Hartford who had the temerity to Page 314 say that "he hoped to meet some of the members of the church in Hell before long, and he did not question that he would," was put in the pillory and severely whipped. [*157]

Even as late as 1840, a rich old lady provoked a nine-day discussion by providing herself with a cushion to sit on to relieve her aching back caused by the hard, straight-back benches.

In the law books of that period is recorded this case: "His Majesty's tithing man entered complaint against Jona and Susan Smith, that on the Lord's Day during Divine Service they did smile."

The petty insults and embarrassments, to say nothing of the beatings and whippings inflicted on "sinners" of that time by the fanatical Sabbatarians, seem incredible.

So fanatical did the Puritan Christian become in the observance of the Sabbath that in order to be certain that he would not violate a single minute of the precious day, he began to observe it from sundown on Saturday until Sunday night. Superstition filled the air, and the slightest infraction of the rules and regulations intensified the fear.

An incident is recorded of a man who was hired by the day to finish a job and who worked an hour after sundown on Saturday. The next day his little child was left alone for a while. She fell into an uncovered well in the cellar of the house and was drowned. It is said that the father freely, "in open congregation, did acknowledge it the righteous hand of God for his profaning his holy day." Imagine believing that a God would kill a child in retaliation for her father's working on the Sabbath!

As late as 1855, shops in Hartford, Connecticut, were not open on Saturday evening. However, there lived at that time some people with both a sense of humor and a bit of courage, and here and there a poet with a little reason would write: [*158]

"And let it be enacted further still
That all our people strict observe our will; Page 315
Five days and a half shall men, and women, too,
Attend their business and their birth pursue,
But after that no man without a fine
Shall walk the streets or at a tavern dine;
One day and halt 'tis respite to rest
From toilsome labor and a tempting feast.
Henceforth let none on peril of their lives
Attempt a journey or embrace their wives;
No barber, foreign or domestic-bred,
Shall e'er presume to dress a lady's head;
No shop shall sell (half the preceding day)
A yard of ribband or an ounce of tea."

And there is still heard this rhymed warning:

"Better a child had ne'er been born
Than cut her nails on a Sunday morn!"


"Sunday shaver, Sunday shorn,
Better hadst thou ne'er been born!"

How fanatical human beings could become over their observance of this Commandment is shown by Carl Sandburg in discussing "Stonewall" Jackson. [*159]

"Stonewall's reverence for the Sabbath went so far that he wouldn't mail a letter to his wife on Sunday, or open one from her that arrived that day. But, 'with the blessing of an ever-kind Providence,' he would 'fight, slay and deliver doom to the enemy if on the Sabbath the enemy looked ready for punishment.'"

Let us not be too ready to smile at the gross superstition of the people in years past regarding the observance of this utterly stupid and silly day. Right in our own time we find this insane determination to stifle all human activity in fear of the wrath of a mythical deity. Page 316

The stringency of the Sabbath laws in this country is described by Herbert Asbury. [*160]

"When I was a boy in Farmington, Sunday was a day of dreadful gloom; over everything hung an atmosphere of morbid fear and dejection. In the morning the whole town donned its Sunday suit, almost always black and funereal and depressing, and therefore becoming to religious practice, and trudged sorrowfully and solemnly to Sunday school and to church, there to wail doleful hymns and hear an unlearned man ... beseech the Lord upon the universal prayer theme of 'gimme.' Then the village marched, in mournful cadence, back home for Sunday dinner." After removing their Sabbath raiment until alter supper, "the family clutched its Bibles and wandered forth despairingly to evening service.

"We could not play games on Sunday; card playing was an invention of the Devil and could not be played on any day, but on Sunday the children were not allowed to play such games as Lotto, Old Maid and Authors.

"The Lord did not approve of Sunday-night suppers, and so we could not have them. In the homes of the godly, there was only a cold snack for the evening meal. It was considered sinful to light a fire in the cookstove after twelve o'clock.

"Dancing on Sunday was considered the Sin of Sins.

"Sunday newspapers were not considered religious."

Ingersoll said: "Sabbaths used to be prisons. Every Sunday was a Bastille. Every Christian was a kind of turnkey and everyone was a prisoner -- was a convict. In that dungeon a smile was a crime. It was thought wrong for a child to laugh upon this holy day. Think of that!" [*161]

On July 27, 1927, Governor John G. Richards of South Carolina made a statement expressing his determination to "close up South Carolina tight on Sundays." He said: "I regard the great national sin today, the want of a proper observance of the Sabbath. Much of the present-day lawlessness can be traced to the fact that people are neglecting religion in order that they may make a sporting event Page 317 of Sunday. Normal conditions can be restored by regard for religious requirements of the Sabbath." The Governor admits that at present, with blue laws enforced, there is still much lawlessness in the State, but he thinks this can be remedied when everything is closed down on the Sabbath day. [*162]

Is Governor Richards very far removed intellectually from the primitive savage who observed the appearance of the new moon by putting bags over the heads of the chickens and dogs so they would not disturb the peace and quiet of the day that all so feared?

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a summer resort near New York, still observes the Sabbath-Sunday by-laws passed over 100 years ago. On Sunday, July 31, 1927, [*163] these conditions prevailed: No automobile was permitted on the streets; no cars could pass through the city from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday; parking in front of one's own home was prohibited; no man, woman or child was permitted to bathe in the surf; a messenger could not deliver a telegram on his bicycle, but had to walk a mile from Asbury Park, or get off his bicycle and wheel it into Ocean Grove. A newspaper published a photograph of William Young, a messenger boy, wheeling his bicycle to deliver a rush telegram. No ice cream could be purchased; if one wanted a plate of ice cream, one had to go to a restaurant owned by the Sunday Association and order a whole meal costing a dollar. Sunday newspapers were taboo. Even special-delivery letters could not be delivered. Dentists were not permitted to treat patients, and all drugstores were closed.

The delicious dish of ice cream covered with syrup now known as a "sundae" is an invention to circumvent the law passed in many States prohibiting the sale of ice-cream sodas on Sunday as a desecration of the Sabbath. Soda dispensers circumvented the law by serving ice cream, which was considered a food, covered with syrup, as a Sabbath substitute for ice-cream sodas, and so the "sundae" came into existence! Page 318

So fanatical can the supporters of these Sabbath laws become that murder is sometimes perpetrated to prevent the Sabbath from being "violated." On November 9, 1930, Richard Hannah, 18, was shot to death and his brother George, 22, was wounded while they were resisting arrest for violating the blue law prohibiting Sunday hunting in Chardon, Ohio. [*164]

One man murdered a woman but refrained from giving himself up to the police because the act was committed on the Sabbath: [*165]

"Joseph Borys, sixty-two, walked into a police station today and told the desk sergeant that he had battered a woman to death with an ax Sunday, but had waited twenty-four hours to report it -- 'because Sunday is a day of rest.' The skeptical officer ordered the confessed slayer held in jail while patrolmen were sent to investigate. They found the body of Mrs. Francis Piotrowski, forty-nine lying beside a bed. Her head was crushed.

"Borys explained his wife had urged him to surrender immediately, but he insisted: 'No, Sunday is a day of rest. I'll go tomorrow.'"

What a parody on morals! A religion that perverts the brain to such an extent that a greater restraint is exercised to prevent the violation of the Sabbath than the commission of a murder!

On December 2, 1927, members of the City Council of Lawrenceville, Illinois, planned to introduce an ordinance prohibiting housewives from preparing dinner on Sunday and to prevent physicians from attending the sick. [*166]

On May 2, 1927, an artist was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland, for painting a picture on Sunday. [*167]

East Orange, New Jersey, prohibits the showing of moving pictures on Sunday, but it is permitted in Orange, New Jersey. A theatre on the border line between the two cities divided the theatre Page 319 with a rope, and special ushers were hired to see that no one sat on the side of the house which was in East Orange! [*168]

On December 12, 1926, in Irvington, New Jersey, ninety-five people were fined for violating the Sabbath law. These arch criminals were guilty of selling cigars, toothpaste, gasoline, shoe polish, ice cream and tin whistles. [*169]

When attempts were made to impose additional restrictions upon the activities of the people of New York State on the ground that the desecration of the Sabbath was contributing to lawlessness, Senator Benjamin Antin protested vigorously. His letter, sent to the Lords Day Alliance, is a hopeful sign that not all our legislators are cowed by these religious fanatics. He wrote:

"As one of the legislators of this State who shall have an opportunity to vote on any measures you advocate, I hasten to assure you that I shall fight these with all my strength and power.

"You speak of the increase of criminal statistics. We deplore these as much as you do. But any psychiatrist will tell you that the answer is not to be found in more blue laws.

"Today all thinking men stand in awe before the staggering results of prohibition, which has exalted the bootlegger to the estate of wealth, murdered drinkers with poisoned rum, and produced a disregard and even a contempt for law which shocks us. Shall we add to this the bootlegging of gasoline, books, movies, cards, dancing and piano playing?

"We believe that God intended his children to enjoy their days on earth. We believe that the day of rest should be a day of relaxation."

Interesting, however, is the statement of the Rev. H. L. Bowlby, who attributed the "crime wave" some years ago and the "general breakdown" of society to the "violation of the fourth commandment [which Christians constantly violate when they observe Sunday according to the Hebrew calendar] in the nation-wide desecration of Page 320the Sabbath." He regards this as the most "serious contributing cause for the present alarming conditions." [*170]

When we take into consideration the fact that both Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray taught Sunday school; that William Hickman was a regular Sunday-school attendant and conscientious in his studies for the ministry; that the Diamond boys were known for their strict observance of their Sabbath and regularly attended the synagogue on Saturdays; that a young girl in Los Angeles deliberately murdered her mother because she refused to permit her to go on a picnic sponsored by the Sunday school from which she had just returned; that when Earl Peacock, [*171] who killed his wife and set fire to her body, was arrested, he wore a medal which he received for six years of perfect Sunday school attendance; that a choir boy, while attending Sunday school, robbed twenty-one poor boxes and appropriated the entire contents, $190, for his own use; and that a minister, while delivering his regular Sunday morning sermon, flirted with his pretty choir singer until infatuation became so great that he eloped with the young woman immediately after the service, leaving his wife and children destitute, then I am inclined to agree with the reverend gentleman that the "influence of the Sabbath" is the most "serious contributing cause for the present alarming conditions."

The observance or non-observance of the Sabbath, whether it be Saturday or Sunday, or any other day of the week, has absolutely nothing to do either with committing or preventing crime. The prevalence of this misunderstanding is responsible for the confusion concerning religion and morality.

It is the duty of every sensible man and woman to violate the insane provisions for observing the Sabbath and break the taboos associated with it.

This day is utterly meaningless; it was born of superstitious fear and ignorance and has been the source of unnecessary misery to the Page 321 human race. If there is a God and he wanted to curse the human race, he could not more effectively have vented his malediction than by the creation of a Sabbath day.

With Ingersoll, we say: "Let us throw away these superstitions and take the higher and nobler ground, that every day should be rendered sacred by some loving act, by increasing the happiness of man, giving birth to noble thoughts, putting in the path of toil some flower of joy, helping the unfortunate, lifting the fallen, dispelling gloom, destroying prejudice, defending the helpless and filling homes with light and love." What a profitable exchange would take place!

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