The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Children on Sundays Part 1
by Robert Bird
In an age when trains, tramway cars, cabs, carriages and bicycles run on Sunday, and many good people use them—when the telegraph and the telephone, the King's mails and the police, keep no day of rest, and milk is delivered at our doors without remonstrance—it is evident that things have greatly changed since the times of our fathers. We live in a generation when public parks, with their display of flowers and grass, of trees and water fowl, are the delight of many on Sunday. In some towns, museums and picture galleries are visited by many people who are not un-Christian. Costly musical instruments and highly paid musicians are heard in our churches.
The homes of the middle-class are made beautiful with pictures and trophies of foreign travel upon the walls; interesting with cabinets of specimens and curiosities; sweet with flowers and rich with books, rising from the hundred favourite volumes to the shelves laden with every kind of mental food. Living amid such surroundings, with windows looking out upon a garden filled with sunshine and shadow, and almost as secluded as our rooms, it is necessary that we should calmly and justly consider whether the customs which regulated the Israelites, dwelling in their black tents some thousands of years ago, or even whether the customs of our fathers of one hundred years ago, are sufficient for us and for our children, or whether the spreading of the knowledge of God from east to west, the advance in religion, and in our ways of living, do not also call for changes in our Sunday customs.
If you were to stop the first man you met in the street and ask him where you were to find your rule and guide for children on Sundays, he would say, in the Ten Commandments, and particularly the fourth. We turn to these commandments and find that they are twice given in the Bible and not in identical terms, and when we examine their surroundings we see two reasons given for keeping the Sabbath: (1) because at the creation God rested on the seventh day of the week, and (2) because He delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage. The Sabbath is also declared to be a "covenant" and a sign between God and the Israelites, to be observed during all their generations on the seventh day of the week by resting, and on the seventh month of the year by a succession of festivals, and on every seventh year by leaving the earth untilled and giving slaves their freedom.
Israelites and Their Sabbath
Let us look at the people to whom this Sabbath law was given. They were a community of slaves, born in slavery, who had escaped into the desert. The marks of their manacles were fresh upon them, their backs scored with scourge strokes and bent with incessant toil that knew no day of rest, and their souls were crushed with oppression, and cowed by the power, the worship, and the civilization of Egypt. Moses was about to give them the laws of a new life, to be lived in tents in a moving camp, laws that would mark the great change for ever. The fourth commandment lifted their eyes to God as their Deliverer, with a joy and a gratitude which we cannot pretend to feel, and one day in seven was to be a day of rest, and joy, and worship, to the end of time, in which they were to remember thankfully their great Deliverance, and the covenant, that God would be their God, and they, His people. On that day they were not to take down their tents and travel on. They were not to train or lead out cattle, work at their trades, or light fires. In their climate, fires were not needed for warmth; and milk, and cakes, and fruit, from sunset to sunset, would be no hard or exceptional diet.
It is evident, therefore, that their manner of life was vastly different from ours, and that, while the principle of the Sabbath remains, the mode of carrying it out must be as different as our worship is different; for life in a city is very far removed from the camp life of Arabs.
What about their children, we ask? I find it hard to conceive what rules such a community could have for the observance of the Sabbath by such atoms of humanity, other than that they worshipped with their parents and were not to be set to work, just as slaves were not to work on that day.
Having glanced at the condition of the men of Israel when the commandments were given to them, also look at the history and the vicissitudes of the Jewish Sabbath, as it came down the long centuries toward us.
But, at this point, let us clear our eyes. In handling a subject so thorny as the Sabbath question, and so closely related to the conduct of life—the aim of all religion—I should wish to draw a ring round our inquiry. Let it not be supposed that we shall try to arrive at a set of rules and regulations as to Sunday observance for grown-up people. That is outside my ring. Within it I see only the heads of children, old and young, and my object is to remind you of what the children's rights are, and how they can be helped to spend a holy and a happy day. A happy day they will easily spend, if let alone, and our chief anxiety is how to make it holy without making it unhappy. Sunday ought to be the happiest day of all the week for them, a day of rest from tasks, a day of recreation, a day of the sweetest memories of enjoyable worship.
The Sunday of our Childhood
In our study of the Sabbath question, I find that from Mount Horeb down to the present day, all are agreed that the day of rest should be a joyful day, and none louder than the voices of little children demand this fulfillment of Scripture at our hands, and their demand must be listened to. We have only, however, to think of the children's Sunday of 30 years ago, fresh in the memory of many of us, to see that something was very far wrong. It began on the Saturday evening, when romping and music were hushed long before midnight. Walking out was forbidden, excepting to church. Games were forbidden, music was forbidden. Laughter and frolic were checked with the remark, "Remember what day this is." To sit reading a good book behind a drawn blind, and not to envy his neighbour's children out in their garden, was counted proper Sunday keeping. The defect of that day was its lack of joy, and I am disposed to think that the main thing wanted to cure the defect in our present-day children's Sunday is to give them more of real childish joy, not old people's joy—and less of other things. If you succeed in making the day happy, not theologically happy, religiously happy, theoretically or abstractly happy, but absolutely and truly, by one means or another, a day of joy to the child, then everything in that day will be steeped in the sunshine of a glad heart, unclouded by the gloom of a weary, forbidden, and joyless mind.
The Sundays of our childhood were the holiest, but not the happiest days of our week, and some of us have carried into life impressions associated with worship and religion, of a kind not likely to endear them to us.
Let us now enquire how far it is consistent with our free and joyous Christianity to make the children's Sunday happy as well as holy, and what means we are at liberty to use to gain that end, keeping in view that we do not live in tents, with the pure air of the desert around us, and the magnificence of mountains before our eyes, with the glory of the rising and setting suns; but that some of us spend our days amid the noise and the struggle of cities, and that keeping up with the march of the world's events, leaves us almost incapable of quiet contemplation and restful thinking.
Vicissitudes of the Jewish State
Look at the vicissitudes of the Sabbath and the Day of rest. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells us that the Sabbath was an institution from the beginning of the world, but we may leave that to the theologians, with the remark that we read, "God made the covenant in Horeb, not with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day."
Remember that the Israelites as a part of their Sabbath observance were not allowed to have a fire in any of their dwellings, on pain of death, and that death also was the penalty for anyone who profaned that day, as it was for other offences. That has been departed from as inapplicable to our day, but rest, worship and joy were, and still are, the leading principles of the day in seven. Whether these Israelites allowed their little children to laugh, sing, shout, run and play their games on the Sabbath day among the black tents of their desert camp we do not know, but we cannot picture joyful children who were not allowed to do so.
As the centuries passed, the books of Moses, and particularly the ten commandments, became incrusted with the traditionary sayings of the men who professed to expound them, until, in the words of a jocular Rabbi, they resembled a mountain hanging by a hair.
Coming to the times of our Lord, we find that while the Sabbath was still joyful in theory, in practice it had become the most restricted and joyless day of the week, under their efforts to make it the most holy, by rule and regulation.
I ask again, what about children? But it is the same with the Rabbinic traditions as with the Mosaic customs. The eyes of the law-giver and the scribe saw men and more men before him, with little of women, and nothing at all of children, for children were theoretically not answerable for their acts until they were thirteen years of age, and became sons of the law. Girls were passed over in these matters, but why, we know not.
In our Lord's day, the Rabbis sought to bring about rest by compulsion, as if they could stop a man's brain by holding down his limbs. They said that to make him rest on the Sabbath, he must not walk more than a mile, he must not carry a walking stick, or a loaf, or wear nails in his shoes. He must not pluck an ear of wheat and rub it, for that would be to work by reaping and threshing; nor must he heal anyone, but he might pull his animals out of a well, and so save valuable property.
Jesus and the Sabbath Rules
We are approaching a crisis. The command of God incrusted by tradition, had become hard and soulless as a fossil. But Jesus broke the rules of man to set free the commands of God. One of the first offences which the churchmen found in Him was that He broke their Sabbath customs, and defended others for doing so. He did not break God's Sabbath, but man's Sabbath. We are told of eight occasions on which he broke their Sabbath's rules, and we doubt not that there were more.
What would have been thought in country Scotland thirty years ago of twelve tradesmen going through a harvest field on the Sunday, plucking wheat as they went and rubbing it between their hands, to satisfy their hunger? And yet Jesus encouraged his followers to do so. Can children be blamed for going forth in a band to pluck blackberries? What would have been thought in a Scottish village of thirty years ago if a man were to walk through the streets carrying a thick mat, which was his bed? And yet Jesus bade the men of His day do so more than once. In His defence of breaking their Sabbath customs He told His accusers that the priest in the temple worked on that day, and that the Sabbath was made for man, and asked this piercing and far-reaching question, whether it is wrong to do what is good on the Sabbath, or only wrong to do what is evil? When a scribe reminded Him of the fourth commandment, saying, "Are there not six days in which men ought to work?" the reply was, "Thou hypocrite! You loose your ox or your ass, and may I not loose this woman?"
Jesus went to a dinner, with invited guests, at a rich man's house on the Sabbath, where he was waited upon by servants, and the guests quarrelled for the best seats. A part of His teaching was to free the spirit of the fourth commandment from those oppressive and strangling rules with which men had bound it, and, as His followers, we must take care that the rest and joy of that day are not strangled by like means.
The first Christians were Jews, and they did not see anything in the teaching of Jesus to do away with the Jewish Sabbath as given by Moses, but on His death and rising again, there dawned another day, more joyful, more memorable and more deserving to be observed as a day of rest and worship, henceforth to be known as the Lord's Day on the first day of the week.
Rivalry Between the Sabbath and the Sunday
For many years the Jewish Christian kept the Jewish Sabbath under the fourth commandment, and the Christian Lord's Day also, in commemoration of our Saviour's rising. While that satisfied Jews who were familiar with the Book of Moses, it did not satisfy foreign Christians who were not so well informed, and they put questions to Paul which elicited this sentence of direction to the men of Colosse, and in which more than one Jewish rule was swept aside. "Let no man judge you in respect of meat or drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is Christ." And a rivalry arose between the Jewish Sabbath on the seventh day, and the Lord's Day on the first day of the week; some being of opinion that the Sabbath, as a Jewish institution, had passed away. The Jews held to their day, but the foreign Christians swept on, keeping only the Lord's Day.
A new era for that day dawned, when, 300 years after the death of Christ, Constantine issued an edict that it was to be kept as a day of rest in the cities among all toiling people; but not so with the husbandmen in the country, for, as he said, another day might not be so good, and so the bounty of heaven might be lost. And thus, springing from an edict mainly secular, the Lord's Day grew, dwarfing the Jew's Sabbath.
Eleven hundred years after the death of Christ, men were more theological and less tolerant of each other's opinions, and a strong stand was made of the view, that the Jew's Sabbath and everything connected with it was abrogated by Christianity, without prejudice to the Lord's Day. The Catholic church classed Sunday as a "holy day" amongst their other holy days, and when the movement for reform deepened and broadened, it included "holy days" among the rest. Fifteen hundred years after the death of our Lord, what we describe as the "Reformation" was at its height, and a part of the enthusiasm of that time was that nothing in the Protestant church should partake either of Romanism or Judaism. And so we find Luther saying: "If anywhere the Lord's day is made holy, for the mere day's sake, or its observance set up on the Jewish foundation, then I order you to work, ride, dance, feast on it; do anything that shall remove this encroachment on Christian liberty." Again he says: "Nature teaches the lesson, that the working classes, servants and maids, require a day in which they may take breath from their work, and refresh their exhausted frames by repose. Leisure and time also must be obtained for Divine worship, otherwise no opportunity could be found to come together and hear God's word. No one day is better than another. But men are so encumbered with business that some day must be selected in each week for these matters, and as those who preceded us chose the Lord's Day, this custom must not readily be changed."
In a confession of faith, of 1531, there is the following instruction to the people: "Those who say that the Lord's Day was instituted in place of the Sabbath, as a day to be necessarily observed, are greatly mistaken. All Mosaic ceremonies may be omitted." Calvin taught "That the Sabbath was abrogated. That the first day of the week was a convenient day for worship. But to contend that the ceremonial part of the Jewish Sabbath was abolished, and that the moral part of one day in seven was retained, was, he said, to insult the Jews, by changing the day, and to imitate them by observing another, which we invest with the same sanctity." Thus the pendulum swung, with surprising freedom, because of the struggle for liberty which it had gone through.
But fifty years had not passed until there came a wind of a different temper. In 1590 Dr. Bownd wrote a book upon the Sabbath question which stirred the whole country, although his name is not familiar in our ears. He asserted, and it was accepted as sound doctrine, that the Lord's Day was based on the fourth commandment. Twenty years later English clergymen were able to say at a Synod in Holland, when contrasting the severe English Sabbath with the Dutchman's laxity, "Our magistrates fine those who do not go to church on Sunday, and that has more effect than the most pious exhortations."
Rest by Compulsion
We thus see the Church invoking the aid of the lawyers in order to get men to keep the Sunday as they said it should be kept, and from this idea has sprung acts of Parliament; some ordering certain rules, some forbidding certain customs, some repealing earlier acts as obsolete—a sort of kaleidoscope which has not yet ceased to revolve. Negativists tell us you cannot make men sober by Act of Parliament. I am certain you cannot make them righteous. Dr. Bownd's book was followed by orders of the clergy to the effect that the Jewish Sabbath was abolished, but that while the ceremonial part of the fourth commandment applied to Jews only of that day and not to Englishmen now, the moral part applied to all men, and was transferred to the first day of the week—a very subtle distinction, which did not please all the clergymen of that time. This book endeavoured to reduce Sabbath observance to a set of rules and customs. The rest on that day "Must be notable and singular: a most careful, exact and precise rest; on it students were not to study nor lawyers read up their cases: there were to be no feasts nor wedding dinners, shooting, fencing nor bowling, and not more than one bell rung." It is not easy to measure how much of our joyless negative Sunday may be traced back to that popular and stirring book and its imitators.
In Scotland the King passed acts enjoining the people to practice archery at the parish targets beside the parish church on Sundays after service, to enable them to meet the English clothyard arrows. And in England Dr. Bownd's book was answered by King James' famous Book of Sports, allowing the people after church to cultivate athletic games and lawful pastimes on Sunday, as he thought the day was becoming too gloomy and depressing. While this pleased some, it greatly incensed others, who denounced lighting of fires, cooking hot dinners, sweeping a house, walking in a garden, cutting the hair or shaving. But those who did so were not aware how perilously close they were coming to the absurd Synagogue rules of the Rabbis of 1600 years before.
We have now travelled a good way down the centuries, examining as we go, but in all our enquiry I have not yet heard a human voice raised on behalf of the children, and until I hear it I shall not be satisfied.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, of 1643, ruled men's minds on the subject of the Sunday for about 200 years, and we pass on until we arrive at the age of steam and electricity and newspaper editors, of smelting furnaces, pit pumping and chemical processes, which rest not and cannot rest.
Sunday Train Crisis
The running of Sunday trains brought on a crisis in Scotland which stirred men's minds. For two whole days the Sunday question was debated in the Glasgow Presbytery, on the proposal to issue a pastoral for the guidance of the people that almost filled a column of the newspaper. The pastoral and the speeches in support of it have alike passed into oblivion, but the burly form of Dr. Norman McLeod remains, with eyes looking forward, his large heart beating, as he tells his brethren of the day that he sees coming. He reawakened the old argument, that the fourth commandment and the Jewish Sabbath were abrogated, and that the Lord's day must look for its sanction in other directions.
In considering the deliberations of the Presbytery, it is worth while to keep in view the results already arrived at by Dr. Hessey in his eight Bampton lectures, delivered before the Oxford University in 1860, on the "Origin, History, and Present Obligations of the Sunday." Summing up in his last lectures he says:—"If the truth must be spoken, the clergy are not the best possible judges of what the laity can endure. Their pursuits are so various, that their rest requires variety also, the same rest does not refresh the student, the artisan, the city toiler and the country labourer. Their different occupations and dwellings must be considered in fixing how they must rest. Besides making our church services interesting, and such as men may easily frequent, we should (so it seems to me) not frown on those who consider Sunday to be, within certain limits, a day of cheerful relaxation, of family union, and of social enjoyment, as well as of religious services, for there is nothing in Scripture to forbid this."
What About Children?
Once more, I enquire, what about children, what are their rights? And at last I get an answer from Dr. Hessey, and from Dr. McLeod, five years later. Their hearts are great, and the words of their Master are graven there—"See that ye despise not one of these little ones." Jesus' day is to be one of rest, and joy, and worship, and the faces of thousands of little children rise before the eyes of these good men as they speak. Dr. Hessey's words are a confession. "To begin with, children on Sunday—we find it difficult to know what to do with them." And he goes on to speak of them as taken twice to church, where they understand "Little of the prayers and less of the sermon." They come out of church, and "They must do this, and they must not do that, they must sit still and be very quiet, or read only good books, and the like." "Can we wonder," he continues, "that they associate Sunday with dullness and restraint, and not with joy and happiness, and that when they get older they look upon it with dislike?" This is his conclusion:—"When we have established the principle of the Sunday it is wise to leave particulars to the conscience of the individual." "A man's conscience," he continues, "will rarely lead him astray if informed by such historical enquiries as I have endeavoured to lay before you, enlightened by earnest prayer and love to God and man."
Dr. Norman McLeod maintained the principles of the Lord's day to be these three—rest, and joy, and worship. With a warm hand, a large heart, and a practical knowledge of the men of his day, the burly doctor pictured the merchant relieved from business and at home for one day in seven, free to cultivate all the tender relations round his fireside, with wife, and children, and friend. He spoke also of the workman, who for six days went out, leaving his babes asleep in bed, and returned to find them sleeping there again, and to whom their father's face and voice would be as those of a stranger without that one day in seven, the Lord's day, with our Lord's happiness and love of children bending over it.
Mr. Ruskin tells us that it is a grave defect in Greek art that it never gives you any conception of Greek children, nor up to the 13th century does Gothic art give you any conception of the children of that time; but from the moment that the spirit of Christianity had been entirely interpreted to the western races, the sanctity of childhood in unity with that of Christ became the light of every honest heart and the joy of every pure and chastened soul. "In literature," he continues, "I imagine we may take 'The toddlin' wee things' of the Cottar's Saturday Night as the real beginning of child benediction."
Part 2 pg 930-936
Is This Jesus' Day?
As the time of Moses recedes and Christianity advances, the rosy faces and the sunny heads of children crowd yet more upon our picture. We look to Jesus, and we see Him surrounded by His cloud of witnesses, not with radiant wings in the sky above Him, but the shadowy, moving, joyous forms of those little ones, the children of His kingdom, whose feet beat the dust of the path as they followed Him along the road. Men drove them away, but He bade them come and surround Him; He took them in His arms and blessed them. With hands held up to Him they cry with joy, "If this first day of the week be Jesus; day, then it must be a day of joy for us. Worship we shall try to comprehend, rest we cannot, for we cannot work, but joyful we can be, if for Jesus; sake you will allow us."
Now let me get a little closer to our subject. I have sought to trace the history of the Sunday question with an impartial hand, but not to draw conclusions for grown-up people. They must do that for themselves. My labours are not for the bearded grain, but for the flowers that grow between, and it seems to me as if the negative injunctions of the learned that have blown hither and thither for years across the field of controversy have entirely passed over the heads of the sweet wild flowers.
But we must part the stalks, and look down and enquire how fares it with these flowers of God. What is the trouble with the children, for which we seek a remedy? It is that we try to fit men's shoes upon their little feet, and put men's heads upon their little shoulders, and thrust men's consciences, worn and battered, into their fresh bodies. But it will not do! Time enough for that! Let them have sunshine now.
What are the Children's Rights?
Regarding Sunday both as a day falling under the Jewish fourth commandment, and also as the Lord's Day of the Christians, what are we to do with our children upon that day? What are their rights and our duties?
I find all are agreed on this, that Sunday is to be a day of rest, and joy, and worship. Men have considered for hundreds of years how it affects grown-up people, and there cannot be a doubt that so much attention has been devoted to getting people to rest and worship on that day (even going the length of invoking the civil court to force them to do so) that the third element of joy, which may be called the touch which would transform the whole, has been woefully lost sight of. And when we think of the restless nature of children, it becomes clear as noon-day that unless you have joy, your Sunday will be a religious failure and an unpleasant memory. For them it must not be a dull, wearisome, inactive, monotonous day of depressing restrictions, and of faces that do not willingly smile. It is not merely to be a pleasant day to them, or a happy day, which is one degree better, but a joyous day, which is better still. How we are to secure this, is not very difficult to say, for it consists largely in removing restrictions which, whatever good they may do to older people, are only harmful to children.
The law of rest is a law for the relief of toilers. With children below school age it has absolutely nothing to do. These sunbeams in our world cannot work, and therefore they cannot rest. That law passes over their heads. But with school children, it is obvious that as school lessons form the work of their week, their rest must be to have none of these on Sunday. And very great care should be taken that the rest from school lessons is not invaded and broken with religious tasks, in which the child finds only a change of work and no rest. A man may find rest in a change of work, but not children. Rest with them has only one simple meaning, "no work." It does not mean lying in bed, or sitting in a chair, or walking when they wish to run, and being silent when they wish to sing. The child wants no tasks, or lessons only so light as not to amount to work. To mark Sunday out as a day for learning scripture, until it becomes a drudgery, with the added anxiety of repeating it correctly, is to cast at least one cloud of unhappiness on the child's day of joy.
Surely we can learn how to get our children to worship with us on Sunday, without restricting their happiness or banishing their joy. How far a child can worship, or how far he only watches others worshipping, is a mystery of childhood that we cannot penetrate. Have we not all pictured in our heart the child
Whose early feet,
Let him early associate the Sabbath with a happy attendance with his parents at a happy church service, where he is not forbidden to smile, and not checked from beguiling the time in his own little way, while his parents are listening to what he cannot understand, and where, let me say, the pleasure of a sweetmeat is not a forbidden thing.
Let it be clearly understood that I am speaking of the children, not of the working classes, but of the well-to-do; of people who know what to teach a child in religious matters, and are able and willing to do it; and who need not, unless they choose, send their children to a Sunday School to be taught by others those priceless things which shall form the springs, weak or strong, true or false, of their future life. I speak to those who have a garden or other place of recreation at home, and who don't need to resort to public parks for the sight of flowers and the song of birds. Happy is he who has a secluded garden (secluded not because of observation, but that it may not disturb the quiet of others), where his children may run and play, and be joyous to the height of their bent on the Sunday, with that heart-innocence of joy, which passes away from life as we grow older.
Three Leading Principles
Joy, rest, worship. To secure these, I would earnestly urge that our children are entitled to as much of their parents' company on Sunday as it is possible to give, and a heavy responsibility rests on those who hand them over to others, and devote their hours to what they believe to be duties in another direction, for in this they deprive their children on a holy day of that water for which they thirst and which none other hand can give them. Your talk need not be always of God and the Bible, for all creation is His handwork and shows forth His glory. The difficulty is to look abroad on this world and see a thing which has not some religion in it, or a good thought that is not bathed in God's sunshine. I should not recommend more than one church attendance for children, and am satisfied that if parents would converse with them freely about what is said in churches, it would be more useful and more fruitful of happiness than taking them to hear a second sermon. Having directed the child's feet in the way that leads to public worship, the understanding mind will come with later years.
In parts, the Bible is the most condensed and abstruse composition in the world, and very few men can read and understand much of it at a time. If we wish our children to be interested in or in any way to like the Bible, we must take the trouble to see that they understand what they hear. A little enquiry reveals amazing misconceptions in their minds. Therefore, let us not read the Bible to our children without explaining it, for if we cannot explain it, what good do you think it will do them?
Nothing is more delicate, nothing more sensitive, nothing more easily misunderstood and irreparably damaged, than religious conceptions in a child, and I implore all men not to delegate that sacred task, committed to them by heaven, to the hands of another, but to see to it themselves. Mothers do not need to be so implored, for their life is wrapped up in the child. Nor is this to be a task taken up and laid down on Sundays; it must be a thing taught and a life lived throughout the week, and so the little child will lead the man.
You cannot keep children idle on Sunday, and at the same time happy, and in order to guide their activity it is necessary to look a little closer at their recreations and employments. It is not right that the noise of children should disturb the quiet of that day to grown-up people, but beyond that limit I should not care to be the first to throw a stone at a child's forms of amusement and recreation. Of course, recreation must not absorb that part of the day which should be given to worship. But let them ramble and run, tend their flowers and their pets, play their quiet games, read their books, examine and arrange their curiosities and their specimens, their pictures and their toys. But, better than games and collections for satisfying their energy is the long interesting walk, where flowers and leaves, stones, birds and a hundred other things, delight their eyes, while the parent talks with them by the way, and they talk with him, feeling sure that whatever is not of evil is of good. Music and singing, painting, and reading any good book, are all restful and joyous employments for a part of the day, reminding them that, as Sunday stands higher than the rest of the week, so should all these pursuits be at their highest level on that day. At the same time, let it be known that all days are alike good, and to be spent in the service of God, whether at school or at church, but that on the Lord's day we are especially to turn our thoughts to God and remind ourselves of Jesus.
Can we look back upon our childhood's Sunday as a day of happiness? May the answer of our children be different. In joy we have the golden key. In my home, I have striven to make the Sunday the happy day, and I have been told it is the happiest day of the week, for the teaching which goes home to the hearts of children in happiness will remain there, a joy for ever. The simple Jewish custom of beginning their Sabbath with the bright Sabbath lamp shedding its light over the cheerful supper table, at which the family were told by their father to rejoice, as they remembered the escape from Egypt, has its lesson for us, of joy, for other reasons. The instruction to the Jewish parents has also its meaning.
"These words which I command thee this day shall be upon thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Making of religion, not a sermon, but a conversational thing.
Avoid Needless Restrictions
We find this injunction under the age of the law and the traditions, what then must it be under the Christian banner of love? Can we picture Jesus on His way through the village turning aside to chide children who are playing their games in the sunshine, or to command them to cease running their races, or laughing aloud, on the Jewish Sabbath? Can we picture Him stopping in His walk to find fault with a workman for tending his flowers, or his bees, and ordering him to spend the day in idleness, which is not always rest? Let us not forget the scorching words with which He condemned the hand washings and the pot washings of His time, the counterpart of which are not difficult to find in ours; and how He taught the people that from a good heart would spring good fruit, and that one law of God was better than a thousand rules.
In this, our Lord was not uttering an entirely new idea. We see glimmerings of the dawn in the words of Jeremiah. The fathers have eaten grapes, and the children's teeth are set at edge. "The days come when God will make a new covenant with Israel, not according to the covenant that He made with their fathers, when He brought them out of Egypt. This is the covenant that He will make. I will put My Law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more, every man, his neighbour, and his brother, saying, know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least unto the greatest."
"I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it." What does this knowledge of the will of God mean? Is it not that if we turn our faces towards Him, He will enlighten our conscience and give us that guide into all truth, that newness of heart of which Jesus spoke? I know of no other way by which God guides His people than by their conscience, nor do I think that it can ever fail, for the answer of a good conscience is toward God. Conscience, however, is like a balance. When it bows one way it is wrong; the other, and it is right; and a thing may be right and more right, wrong and more wrong.
We are enjoined in Scripture not to judge one another and accuse each other of sin; and yet there are people who seem to go about with their pockets full of little labels, with the hateful word "sin" stamped in black upon them, and they think they are somehow doing God service when they stick them upon their neighbours' backs, and in no question is this more common than in regard to Sabbath customs. Human nature has not greatly changed since that day when a Scribe found Jesus in the harvest field, and accused Him of Sabbath breaking.
Freedom and Conscience
There are many things connected with our children's Sunday that are matters of opinion only. There is all the breadth of the world between working children in a factory on a Sunday and allowing them to dig sand with wooden spades on the sea-shore, or gather berries on the hill. Our conscience, enlightened from on high, is our guide, and not our neighbour's opinion. Sin is a thing so deadly (it is the conscious breaking of a law of God) that it is hard to apply it to children in connection with Sunday observance. It may be right for them to go to church, and yet it may be no sin for them to stay away; only a little less right. It may be right for them to read the Bible on Sunday, and only less right, and by no means a sin, for them to read other books. It may be right for them to hear a Bible story on their walk, or in the garden, and not wrong, but only less right, to forecast and anticipate the pleasures of the summer holidays.
Children have their absolute rights. Let us realize that it would be wrong for the child's Sunday to be deprived either of its rest, its joy, or its worship; and be assured that the blame would light, not on the head of the child, but on the guardian. Let us also realize that the extent to which these three great principles are to divide the Sunday are matters of opinion between right, more right and less right. Wisdom tells us that if you flood the Sunday with the sunshine of joy, the child will be seen worshipping with joy, and finding in his recreations the sanctity of rest which he needs. The first day of the week is the Lord's Day, much more than the Jewish Sabbath, and the rigidness of the fourth commandment and its surroundings must not be allowed to outweigh the liberty of conscience in the sight of God, and the freedom from the rules and traditions of men with which Christ has made us free. We speak of man's lost Eden at the dawn of the human race. Have we not each an Eden lying behind us in the golden days of our childhood, from which, as men and women, we passed out into the world? Our children are there now—the children of His kingdom, whose angels do always behold the face of their Father which is in heaven. Of these golden days may their memory be, that the days most golden and best beloved were the one days in seven, called by His dear name, who watched the children playing in the market-place, and took them in His arms; most golden days, because of the unclouded joy of the child, out in the sunlit garden, who sees his father and mother walking with their invisible Companion under the shadow of the trees.
[A Parents' Review article in a following issue responded to this. "The Sunday Question"]
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Mar 2009
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