Tennessee justice says social order, peace depend of Sabbath rest

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Christianity offers culture a day of rest — the first day of the week — during which people are to refrain from ordinary thinking, speaking and commerce, and rest in God.

Christianity offers culture a day of rest — the first day of the week — during which people are to refrain from ordinary thinking, speaking and commerce, and instead worship God and rest in Him. This photo is along Brainerd Road in Chattanooga.

It is appropriate to offer a cogent analysis of the Lord’s Day rest by offering a word of thanks to you, my reader. After all, the market day of the soul is a day in which we are to have submissive hearts, full of thankfulness to God and His irresistible and inexhaustible grace. Thank you for visiting this humble website, which every other day I think of giving up if it weren’t for you, my individual reader, the man who really matters in the scheme of things (though I am constantly tempted to think numbers matter, and not individual souls).

The Lord’s Day is the basis of local economy and prosperity. Rising nobly like a Rock of Gibraltar on the plains of human experience, the Lord’s Day with its rule of rest is a source of comfort and delight to the Christian, who jealously keeps off of its turnings on clock and calendar his ordinary toils. His phone calls, his last-minute marketing task, his email, his vibrating business smart phone, his long-term plan for expansion, his yardwork, his carpentry chore for his dear wife — all are intended by God to be laid aside on this day.

Instead, for our strengthening, we are to take up public and private worship, acts of mercy, rest with family, holy reading and prayer, the necessities of shopping for the things that benefit the soul, resting in the bosom of its creator.

Chattanooga my hometown and yours share the same spiritual defect. That is, rejection of the Lord’s Day as a rule of life. So we have no rest. God’s people eat out, fill mall parking lots, enjoy human entertainments and sports on the day. And God has removed many of the day’s blessings from local economy.

Below is an evaluation of the importance of the Lord’s Day and Sabbath rest by a supreme court judge in Tennessee. The case is about the authority of a municipal corporation (Nashville) to impose restraints on commerce on the first day of the week. Italics are mine. — DJT

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By Judge Freeman

Without discussing this question from any ecclesiastical or theologic standpoint, I think it manifest that such a regulation is in accord not only with all the traditions of our people, but also in accord with a sound public policy.

Far back in the life and law of the people from whom we derive our descent, whose usages and traditions have been handed down to us as our own, we have everywhere, for a thousand years and more, a recognition of the Christian Sunday as one of the institutions as characteristic of our social organism as is the marriage institution, and that to a single wife. That the peculiar view of the sanctity of the day characterizing the opinions of many have been carried to extreme lengths, and embodied a spirit of fanatical zeal for the day simply, may be conceded. In this, such persons have forgotten, perhaps, or failed to appreciate the view of the great founder of Christianity, when replying to religious formalist and zealots of his time as to the true meaning of the Jewish Sabbath — “that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Ancient origins of Sabbath

Be this as it may, the day has been observed in some form, and kept up among us and the people from whom we derive our institutions and law, as one of our institutions, for more than a thousand years. Its ordinary uses are well known, and these follow as implications, and become part of the institution itself, subject to such civil regulation and modification as may be deemed best conducive to promote the ends of a society in which such an institution exists, and is to be perpetuated.

The due regulation of such an institution, with such traditions and usages as have for so long accreted around it, would naturally be such as tended to aid the ends supposed to be desirable, and advanced by such observances as had grown up among us, or had been transmitted from other days to us.

We all know that by common and statute law the engaging in ordinary occupations has always been forbidden, if not absolutely, in a qualified degree. In other words, it is one of the usages of our country in connection with the Sabbath, that it shall be in theory, if not in fact, a day of rest from ordinary labor. Whatever regulation of the occupations and business life of our people either in country or city that falls in with these ideas can never be said to violate the public policy of this country. On the contrary, whenever we find a grant of power to regulate business of any kind, and then find it exercised to attain the end indicated, we may feel sure it is a power fairly intended to be granted, because entirely in accord with all the traditions and usages of our people.

Why ordinary occupations are restrained

To make this clear, suppose a charter for a city or town should be found that should forbid the governing body to restrain or regulate the inhabitants in openly exercising their ordinary occupations on Sunday, every man would feel that this was an anomaly in our legislation and a departure from all that was usage and tradition in the life of our State. It would be felt that inasmuch as the people were aggregated in a closer body in cities and towns that the ordinary occupations of life, if carried on this day, would here more effectually interfere with the habitual Sunday customs of our people than in the country, therefore the more need for authority to regulate and restrain and to prevent this in such localities.

What would happen without sermons?

But there is another view of this question which I wish to present. It is well known, as any other universally seen fact, that on Sunday our people in the main habitually attend some one of the many Christian churches in country or town, which make up another well known feature of the great civilization of which we are a part.

That in these churches there is carried on in some one or other of the forms recognized by these various churches public services, in which the leading elements are worship of the one God of Christendom; and also, there is from some authorized agency, known as a minister, delivered a sermon or lecture, in which the tenets of his church may be the subject, but in all of which there is either directly, or as an undertone to all that is said and done, earnest and persistent enforcement of the eternal obligations of duty and a sound morality as binding and imperative upon the conscience of all, enforced by what are deemed sanctions appealing to the highest hopes and fears that are found in the bosom of our common humanity.

Who can estimate lightly (as we some times hear all this spoken of) the immense influence of all this moral and religious teaching upon the life of our people? Who would be willing, be he christian or skeptic, to have all these churches closed, these worships dispensed with, these sermons unheard, crude though many of them may be in thought — yet all bearing with more or less weight on the moral life of the hearers.

Sound morality and social life

That a sound morality is essential to the higher life of every community is conceded by us. That to conserve and strengthen such morality is as a matter of public policy one of the most, if not the supremely desirable end of social regulation, would not be hard to demonstrate. Without the sense of moral obligation making obedience to law a duty, and duty a “categorical imperative,” so that the words “I ought” shall compel the action of a majority, law is an useless and idle utterance, for all know that if no one in a community, or a majority, did not deem law sacred, obedience could or would not be enforced. All agreeing to let it remain a dead letter on the statute book, crime and vice would soon reign supreme in our land.

The peace and safety of our people is preserved far more by the conscientious sense of duty than by the penal sanctions of our law.

It being clear that the moral culture of our people as a mass is almost entirely derived, either directly or indirectly from the influence brought to bear on the public conscience, through the agency of the religious institutions for worship and teaching, which do their work on Sunday, it follows that any regulation tending to increase the efficiency of these agencies is one of vital public concern, and demanded by the best interest of society. If all the occupations of a great city, or even a village, were permitted to be carried on as usual on this the day consecrated to worship and moral teaching, then it needs no argument to show that such interruptions to such exercises would continually occur, such prevention of attendance on the part of thousands who would otherwise attend, that this mighty source of moral influence would be weakened and greatly enfeebled in its beneficent work.

No community can afford to permit any burden on the religious instruction and moral life of its people without an injury and deterioration that will tend to increase crime and give vice dominance unless it will follow the path that leads towards destruction to all the highest and most sacred interests for which society is organized. In view of these considerations, which a wise and liberal view should be taken by legislators in our towns and cities in so adjusting their regulations as not on the one hand to interfere with private or public interests of the secular class where such interference does not tend to attain or bear directly on the desirable ends I have indicated, yet within such reasonable bounds. I am prepared to say all private gain must and should be subordinated to the higher moral ends in which is enshrined so much of the best interests of the great social organism which serves the end of giving protection to life, liberty, property and reputation of all.

I am unable, after careful scrutiny, to find any thing in the ordinances complained of in violation of the rules I have stated, and therefore heartily agree with the conclusion of my brother, Cooke.

Source: The Mayor and City Council of Nashville v. H. C. LINCK et al, 80 Tenn. 499; 1883 Tenn. LEXIS 204; 12 Lea 499, 1883

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