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Book Review of “The Christian Sabbath” by N. L. Rice

This is a collection of five discourses presented by the New York Sabbath Committee in 1862. It is a rather obscure book but contributes a sketch of American Sabbatarianism at the beginning of the Civil War. Mr. Robert Carter (1807-1889) provides the introduction, and he is both the publisher and a founding member of the Sabbath Committee. Carter explains that this anthology represents one aspect of the Committee’s efforts to inculcate a respect for the Christian Sabbath by providing theological literature for pastors and interested readers. At issue are businesses open on Sunday, the differing viewpoints and activities of European immigrants (specifically German Lutherans) with their Sunday Theater and Beer Gardens, the movement of troops in the current war, the hawking of newspapers on Sunday, and Christians who hold to the abrogation of the Sabbath—each of which contributes to a decrease in morality.

Five New York City pastors lend their expertise in laying down the history, authority, duties, and benefits of Sabbath observance, with a final discourse on the matter of applying these principles in a free society. The discourses are short on biblical exegesis, yet grandiose in style and reasoning. Rice promotes the idea of a Sabbath kept by Adam and the patriarchs, a theological idea he admits was not supported by Luther or Calvin. Hague simply states that God is the author of the Sabbath, but it is “susceptible of adjustment” from one era to another, coming to its final resting place on Sunday. Ganse lays out the paradigm for proper Sabbath conduct and spends a fair amount of time addressing how parents should teach their children to love the Sabbath. Adams discusses the physical, intellectual, social, and religious benefits of Sabbath-keeping, but has misgivings about “recreations” on the Sabbath, equating a walk in the park with dissipation. Finally, Vinton summarizes the rationale for establishing civil participation in this Sabbath concept since all law is an expression of some religion or another. My favorite chapters were Sabbath Duties by Ganse and the Civil Sabbath by Vinton.

The United States is nearly a hundred years old for these writers, so they are closer to the issues of church and state that plagued Europe since the Reformation. They uphold the American experiment and understand the necessity of a moral underpinning to promote a national welfare. These are passionate Christian men who love the Lord and are alarmed at the downturn in public values. Unfortunately, their premise of an archetypical and universal Sabbath that was later codified in the Ten Commandments and then moved to Sunday is not correct. And everything that flows from this premise is suspect. They uniformly and almost exclusively refer to the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as the Sabbath. But their love for the “Sabbath” is really an expression of their love for the Lord’s Day and would it be that more Christians thus regarded it for the spiritual benefits to be gained (absent Sabbatarianism). The book is available in print or in electronic format.

 

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