James Owen of Penrhos

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A sermon preached by Thomas

Below is a sermon preached by Thomas on 10 September 1876 (printed by W.H. Lead, Leicester), when he was Vicar of St. Nicholas, Leicester. It is addressed To the working classes of Leicester and is entitled, "Sunday: Should the museum be opened on this day?"


ACCORDING to my intention I purpose laying before you to-night the Christian idea of the Lord's Day - in what respects it affects man, naturally and spiritually - how far the observance is binding upon him - and the consequent evil of non-observance. And in the sermon, as I promised, I shall consider the question concerning the opening of the Museum, which the week before last was brought before the Leicester Town Council. I shall touch upon the speeches made in favour of the proposal, that I may the more easily confute assertions which I consider groundless and worthless.

I have chosen for my text words which, at first sight, scarcely favour the ground I am going to stand upon; but which, in reality, are a profound protest against any desecration or lowering of that day which Christians especially look upon as their Lord's, and not their own.

The occasion of the text was a walk which our Lord and his disciples took on the Sabbath day. They were going through the corn-fields, and being hungry, the disciples began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. Certain Pharisees, ever on the look¬out to find something against Christ, tell him that his disciples were doing on the Sabbath day that which was not lawful. Whereupon he brings to their remembrance an incident in the life of King David: how upon a certain occasion he and they that were with him ate the shewbread, which no one was allowed to eat except the priests. The necessity made the deed lawful. Besides, their very law in regard to the work of their priests on the Sabbath day was imperfect (Matt. xii., 5) What the disciples did was not done wantonly or wilfully. Then he adds, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath; therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath,

The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

These words are a repeal of the old Sabbath laws. At the same time, they sacredly uphold the sanctity of a Sabbath.

I. They are a repeal of the old Sabbath laws.

In the first outset, the Mosaic code was enacted so as to make Israel, in the most strict sense, a peculiar and holy people - that is, a people set apart. It was God's will and intention that the Israelites should be altogether separate and different from the rest of the world. Hence the strictness of their laws. The idolatrous nations looked upon all days alike. The Israelites were to keep one day holy unto the Lord. Their government was a Theocracy - that is having God as its head. And so everything that would remind them of God was brought prominently forward. The Creation was represented as taking place in six days— on the seventh day God rested from all his work. The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. No work was allowed on pains of death to he done on that day. No fire was permitted to be made (Ex. xxxv., 3 ); no food was to be prepared (Ex. xvi., 5, 23); no buying nor selling allowed (Nehem. x., 31. ) So rigorously was all this carried out, that a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day was sentenced to death by Moses, and stoned.

Those who have read the history of the Jewish nation, as contained in the bible, know that it was absolutely necessary to impose such strict laws upon them, and to hem them in on every side, against outward influences and the licentiousness of the nations around them. Nay, the man who knows anything of the waywardness of his own heart must feel that restraint can alone curb and cure the inclinations of it. Thus the law continued from Moses to Christ. The law was the schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. When Christ came the shadow vanished - the letter of the law ceased. Henceforth the spirit must take its place. We are not bound by those strictures of the Jewish law, social and national; but the principle of it still remains. This we must not forget. The Jewish Sabbath is done away with. As the apostle Paul writes, Let no man judge you in respect of the Sabbath days which are a shadow of things to come, but he adds, The body is of Christ. The laws concerning the Jewish Sabbath were for a purpose - that purpose was accomplished. It ceased with the old dispensation, as other types and shadows also ceased, yet the substance remained. We may now light a fire, we may prepare our food on God’s day without sinning, but we may not do anything which will violate the spirit or mar the body or do away with the sacred lessons the old Sabbath was meant to teach.

II. This brings me to the consideration of the sanctity of the Lord's Day. The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

As the Jewish Sabbath celebrated the completion of the natural creation and the rest following: so the Lord's Day, our day of rest, celebrates the consummation of the new creation of Christ's kingdom. On the first day of the week Christ rose from the dead, having accomplished the work of redemption, and having triumphed over death that we might eternally be benefited. To quote the words of the late Robertson of Brighton, With the early Christians the great thought was that of following their crucified and risen Lord; they set, as it were, the clock of time to the epochs of his history. Friday represented the Death, in which all Christians daily die, and Sunday the Resurrection, in which all Christians daily rise to a holier life. And as the sunflower turns from morning till evening to the sun, so did the early Church turn for ever to her Lord, transforming week and year into a symbolical representation of his spiritual life.

The Sabbath was made for man. It was made for man. First - In regard to the requirements of his nature, physically and mentally. Second—In regard to his spiritual welfare.

Man requires rest; our nature demands it. No one can endure for any great length of time continual work, or continual strain upon the brain. He who created fully knew the wants and necessities of his creatures. He foresaw that, for a man to live out his days, there must be a cessation of one day in seven from toil. As on a long journey, we must rest every now and then - so on our journey through life - He who has prescribed that journey has marked out its resting days. Ask the man of business, ask the man of learning, whether God’s law is not absolutely necessary; enquire of him whose constitution is shattered - supposing he has led a moral life - what is the meaning of it? What will be the answer? Engagements were pressing, business was urgent: I took the Lord’s Day to attend to them as well as the other six days of the week, and here I am a mere shattered wreck. Yes that man is a monument - a standing proof; that The Sabbath was made for man.

Can you believe that men should be so daring as to pass a law other than that of God? yet, such is true. "Revolutionary France," a nation that seems to try many bold measures, and which learns the impracticability of them only by bitter experience, passed a law at the end of last century to enjoin the keeping of one day in ten, and to disregard the Christian system. What was the result? such a law was pronounced to be utterly wrong. The rest was proved to be insufficient. And why? because the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath, not the creature of his hands. The creature is not master of his own nature; and just because the Sabbath was made for man, and not because man was ordained to keep the Sabbath day, you cannot tamper even with the iota, one day in seven

And then, the Sabbath was made for man" in regard to his spiritual welfare.

There is that in man which other creatures have not. 'Tis called the spirit. Man is made up, you know, of three parts, body, soul, and spirit. So S. Paul writes I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Thess., v. 23). The body is the outward garb of the soul - the soul is the life common to all animals, but the spirit is that which makes us transcendently superior to the beasts of the field. 'Tis an element in us, if I may use the term, taken from the boundless and eternal spirit of God, and so, will outlast the never ending ages either in a state of misery or in a state of happiness.

Now what are we doing in the matter of the spirit? God, seeing its necessities, has done his part. Christ has done his. There is a day especially set apart for the quickening of our spiritual life. That day is holy for this very purpose. Do we look upon it as holy? Do we make use of it as holy? But it does not mean, some one will say, that you should go to church or chapel and attend to the ordinances of religion on that day more than any other day. I give answer: < q>The person who can say this is not careful to go to church or chapel at any time; and as to attending to religion, he never thinks of it; he sacrifices his spirit to the concerns of the flesh. Still, day by day, the flesh is decaying and the life is passing away; and what is your hope beyond? The spirit is everlasting, bear in mind. What provisions are you making for its welfare? what lessons of heaven are you learning? what discipline are you undergoing? for hereafter you can only occupy the position you are fitted for. That man is indeed a spiritual giant, such as was never yet known, who needs no carnal ordinances at all, who needs no kindling of the spiritual feeling, who is so conformed to the mind of Christ that he can do even without the imitation of Christ. And here my mind is carried back to the days of my own childhood and boyhood - carried back to Sundays spent, some would say, too rigorously. They did not seem so to us. We had to go to the Sunday School twice, in the morning and afternoon. We went to church twice, in the morning and evening. Then at night, we were assembled together to read the bible and to sing. Those were delightful days. And let me humbly hope that such observance of, and regard for, Sunday did not tend to lower our morals nor to lessen our intellect. To-night as God’s minister to you, I would enjoin upon you obedience to his laws and would bid you revere and keep holy the Lord’s Day, remembering always:– The Son of man — Christ Jesus — is Lord of the Sabbath.

Having thus spoken of the purposes for which God the Creator ordained the Sabbath, and the teaching of our Lord and Saviour attached to it, I now pass on to consider what some men in Leicester would like to do with it. This brings me to the proposal lately brought before the Town Council of Leicester. At a monthly meeting of the Council, convened August 29th, the Mayor (Alderman William Barfoot) presiding, a proposition was brought forward signed with 1029 names, addressed to the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, praying that the Town Museum may he opened on some part of the Sunday, for the intellectual and moral improvement of the working classes. Among other remarks by those of the Town Council who favoured the proposition were the following. It was moved by an influential member of the Church of England. Theology had nothing to do with the matter. It was a great social question, and one in which the people - the working classes especially - had taken great interest, It was said that if they opened the Museums it would lead to the Continental Sunday being introduced into England, but he (the speaker) thought that would be impossible, the climate would not allow it. He did not think Sunday would be desecrated by anything that would tend to the moral, physical, and intellectual improvement of the people, and the opening of the Museums would have that effect. If the proposition had included the opening of the Free Library he should have been better pleased. Public-houses were opened on Sundays, and why should they not open the Museum as a counteracting influence? Another speaker said he believed if the Museum were opened many people would avail themselves of the opportunity of visiting it. It was maintained that many people spent their Sundays in a very useless manner; the proposal was made in order that they might spend them usefully. This speaker also said that they had no power as a Council to prevent the Theatre being opened on a Sunday. It was thought that the opening of the Museum would not affect those who attended church or chapel. The observation was made, If any member of the Council had any beautiful pictures or curiosities in his possession, they would not shut them up on Sundays, and why should not the people have an opportunity of looking at their property on Sundays? The Museum was public property, and they had no right to keep the public out on the Sunday. The last speaker thought the Corporation should be the leaders rather than the followers of public opinion. He thought they should open the Museum in the widest possible way. He believed institutions of that kind would tend to make Sunday a real day of rest, instead of a seeming one. They saw people going to church and chapel to enjoy themselves, and why should not those who did not attend places of worship enjoy themselves by being enabled to visit the Museum?

All the foregoing remarks are public property, and as such, may be discussed, without any breach of courtesy, in a public way. Let us look into them. We will dispose of the last speech first. What is the meaning of this? The Corporation should be the leaders rather than the followers of public opinion. Public opinion is supposed to give the Corporation their position, and now they have got that position, they can turn round and do as they like, even without consulting the public. Is this true? the Corporation is not a despotism. It is the voice not the thoughts of the people. The people think, they act according to those thoughts. A man, or a Corporation may be proud of his and their position, but they must not forget who put them in it.

Did people go to church and chapel to enjoy themselves? The word enjoy lowers the very principle of true religion, and degrades the spirit of Christian worship. Is worship no more than a feasting of the eyes and ears, a mere sensual indulgence? If it be no more, then I say - away with all churches and chapels and turn them into museums, every one of them! But, the man who so looks upon worship can know little of that life which is hidden deep clown in the human heart and which aspires to the exalted places of heaven. And, as to the rest of Sunday, what is it? Is it a lounging, and an idling, and a gaping, and a staring at things and persons? Is it a looking about in a listless manner, a killing of time? The true rest of Sunday is the divesting of the outer world of business and harass and care - a time of the soul’s sweet calm, which is its period of greatest activity - a time of closer communion with God - a time of thinking soberly of the past and of looking seriously to the future - a time of burnishing our armour of faith and holiness for the Christian warfare - a time of gaining fresh strength and comfort and encouragement for the week begun. This is rest.

The clergyman alluded to by the mover of the proposal, when I spoke to him the other day about my sermon to-night, told me if he had been living in the town, he would have thought more than once before doing what he did in the matter. Besides, he thought the clergy of the town ought to have been asked their opinion upon the subject first. So much for a seeming deference to the clergy on the part of the first speaker. ‘Tis a social question, certainly, but it is also a theological one. Who are more able to decide what affects your religion than those whom you recognise as your ministers? Sunday is wound up in the religious thought of this country. The observance of Sunday in England is one of the most distinguishable features in the eyes of a foreigner, as to your zeal for religion and your regard for the teaching of God’s word. God forbid that the Continental Sunday should be the Sunday of this country! One stronghold given up may be the forerunner of its introduction, and climate has nothing to do with men’s inclinations and intentions. The climate does not decide how Sunday should be observed.

Then, in regard to the opening of the Museum as a counter attraction to public-houses. Do those who frequent public-houses avail themselves on the week-days of the Museum? Thousands more than do, might, during the week, visit the Museum if they chose and felt inclined. The doors are now as wide open as possible. There is no hardship shown to the people by them being closed on Sunday. Where do they, whom the proposed opening is supposed will affect, spend their Saturday afternoons? Is enquiry, indeed, so rife, and is the thirst after knowledge so great, that teeming multitudes flock now to the Museum when they have the opportunity? Has the attraction of the Museum proved to counteract the attraction of public-houses and drinking vaults during the week-days? No! neither will it do so on Sunday. First pass a law to close public-houses, and to prevent the drinking in them on a Sunday; then think of opening the Museum. Do away with existing influences and inducements to immorality and evil; then, and not before, think of a questionable counter attraction, which, at best, is but questionable. Is it true the Council have no power to prevent the opening of theatres and dancing saloons on Sunday? First pass a law for this - mend a crying shame; then think of the other. The speaker who talks about his curiosities and beautiful pictures! Does he really stand before them all day on Sunday, except when he is at his place of worship? If he does, he is different to other people. The idea is beside the question altogether. Let me also tell him that, if the Museum is the public property of one who desires it opened, it is also the public property of the ten, or twenty, or hundred who do not desire to see it opened on the Day of Rest.

And now, suppose the Museum were opened on a Sunday, and suppose crowds were inclined to go there, and did go there. It would be a strange intellectual treat to be jostled, and elbowed, and trod upon—certainly, there would be some display of physical power required to make your way in and out — but where the moral improvement will be, I fail to see. You will require a Museum covering several acres of land to meet the demand for the moral physical, and intellectual improvement of the WHOLE population of Leicester. Have you a Museum so large? But surely, the working class of Leicester are not so unsympathetic, and selfish, and il-Liberal, as to desire any enjoyment at the sacrifice of a fellow working man’s rest, which must necessarily be the case if the Museum were opened on Sunday. Be consistent one with another. I think it only requires a knowledge on the part of the speaker, who mentioned the pleasure it would give him to see the Free Library also opened, of the work the librarians have now there, to see the inconsistency of his remarks.

What would be a great boon to working classes of Leicester is a Park, the gift of one or more benevolent citizens. Suppose the ten who voted for the opening of the Museum were to begin by putting down a few thousands each. Deeds are better than speeches. Such a gift would be hailed with delight. Christianity does not prohibit or denounce a walk on a Sunday, or an admiration of the works of creation, or legitimate recreation; but it does prohibit unnecessary work, and whatever robs it of its sanctity; and it does denounce the neglect of duties to God and to Christ. With no uncertain sound it has been proclaimed, Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, (Heb. x, 25).

Several persons, writing to the papers of our town, have vented their spleen against the opposers of so uncalled for a motion, and especially against him who is the working man’s representative at the Council. I say, all honour to the 29 gentlemen who would not be led blindly by the other 10 supporters. The opposers are those who are worthy of your esteem and who should be supported by you whenever occasion calls. And if your working candidate is faithful to you in this — when he runs the risk of your credit and his popularity — as I am persuaded he is — he will be faithful to you in other things. He is worthy of your esteem.

But, it appears that certain called secularists and socialists and others who disbelieve in God and deny the deity of Christ, who scoff at your Lord and Saviour, are at the bottom of this movement. What! can it be, that any of our Council men are so blind, so feeble, so unchristian, as to be led by such as these? who ridicule your Christian creed and give you nothing instead, better-calculated to lessen and to alleviate distress, and to bind up the bleeding and yearning heart of humanity. Will you give up your faith and hope to those who promise you nothing but annihilation as the end of hardships, and trials, and wrongs; who promise you nothing but an eternal separation from all whom you love, admire, and revere — from God, from the Saviour, from angels, and from saints? who take you to the brink of the grave, into which you look down and see only gloom and darkness, indescribable anguish and an horrible dread? — for what is unknown and uncertain, is full of horror. Will you, I ask, let such as these lead you and tell you what is right? you cannot. You must not. YOU DARE NOT.

Let us regard, then, the Day of the Lord to keep it holy. We have much yet to learn of God and what he requires of us. We have a solemn preparation to undergo. Much quickening of the spiritual life, by the Holy Ghost, must yet take place in us before we shall be ready to die. It is only by stedfast obedience, humility, and love to God here, that hereafter, when this frame shall be laid in the dust of the earth — dust to dust, earth to earthin the opening out of an endless career of love, the spirit shall enter on that Sabbath of which all earthly ones are but the shadow, — the Sabbath of Eternity, the immortal Rest of its Father’s Home.