The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49
During the year just closed the American people have had their thoughts turned with new interest to the meaning and value of the institution of Sunday. The action of the Centennial Commissioners in keeping the International Exhibition, at Philadelphia, closed to the public on the first day of the week (though opening it to a few select guests), has awakened the inquiry in many minds that never before harbored it, whether the Sabbath was made for man or man for the Sabbath. Most visitors at the great Exhibition, compelled to admire the excellent order that always prevailed, and comparing the moral opportunities within the enclosure with those along the streets outside, must have been led to ask, Wherein would have consisted the wrong in opening such a place on that day? Education, morality, justice, humanity, alike would seem to plead for the opening. What kept the gates shut? This is a question that brings under review the whole subject of Sunday-observance. What are the grounds of the traditional belief and custom, so powerful in our country, with regard to the first day of the week? and are there not rational and beneficent uses to which the day is not now given ?
The essays here printed were delivered in a recent convention of the Free Religious Association, called page iv specially to consider the question, "How shall we keep Sunday?" and are believed to be an important contribution towards the solution of this question. They were prepared by different authors, yet take the subject up in a sequence that is both historical and logical, as will be seen by their respective topics, and present a connected argument.
Should the essays be criticised as presenting only one side of the question, it may be said in reply, that earnest effort was made to have different views of the subject represented at the above-mentioned convention. Eminent persons, who, from their theological connections, it was supposed would hold a different view of Sunday observance than that given in these essays, were invited to address the meeting, but excused themselves from the service on account of other engagements. In the free discussion that followed the essays, one or two speakers appeared in behalf of the common orthodox belief concerning Sunday; and for the sake of their statements it was at first contemplated to put the entire discussion as well as the essays into a pamphlet. But the meagreness of the statements, though honest and manly, and the size and expense of the required pamphlet, finally prevailed against such a purpose. It may be here said, however, that the entire proceedings of the convention have been published verbatim in "The Index," and all readers of these essays, who desire to see the whole, are referred to Nos. 362 to 366 (inclusive) of that publication, No. 231 Washington Street, Boston, Mass.page v
Certain persons object to any effort to liberalize public sentiment on the Sunday question that it is a superfluous work. They say, that, whatever unjust Sunday laws still stand on the statute books, they are a dead letter, and that practically everybody has all the liberty on Sunday that he wishes. A strange allegation in view of the frequently occurring arrests for violating Sunday laws, and of the fact that thousands and scores of thousands of moral people were prevented at Philadelphia, within the last few months, from doing on that day as their own reason and conscience would have dictated! Moreover, if ecclesiastical public opinion concerning Sunday-observance has lost much of its authority, and the day has lost much of its old authority, and the day has become one of practical freedom compared with the old restraints that surrounded it, none the less, but all the more, presses the question, How shall we use the day to the best advantage? How shall we now reclaim from indolence and demoralizing license this seventh part of life which has been rescued from the power of superstition, and make it serve, in the highest sense, individual and social welfare? In this grave, practical question the argument of these essays culminates. May we not ask, therefore, of all who feel the importance of this question, that they will make some special effort to aid in the circulation of this pamphlet? It is hardly necessary to add, that, according to a well-established principle of the Free Religious Association, both on its platform and in its publications, each of the essayists speaks for himself alone, and commits no one else.