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Title: A Few Words on the Crystal Palace Question

Author: C. J. Vaughan

Release date: November 14, 2020 [eBook #63755]

Language: English


Transcribed from the 1852 John Murray edition by David Price














No Clergyman who values his own ease will write on either side of a question connected however remotely with that of Sunday observance.  If he takes the one side, the world accuses him of bigotry: if the other, his brethren stigmatize him as a Latitudinarian.  What is worse, he runs the risk of either furnishing a handle to the irreligious, or perplexing and depressing the thoughtful and serious.

Nor is the danger removed by his occupying a position of the utmost possible moderation, acknowledging the strength of both sides, and endeavouring to adjust with p. 4all evenness their conflicting claims.  The only result is, that he becomes the prey of both parties: each holds on its way, and the voice of candour is silenced by the uproar.

Yet the truth must be spoken.  No personal considerations ought to suppress it.  No anxiety for the cause of good can justify a timid compromise with error.

It is impossible to reflect without a sense of deep disquiet upon the present position of the Sunday question in England.  It is a point on which men’s professions are at war with their conduct.  It is a point on which traditional ideas are held in forced conjunction with altered practices.  It is a point on which Christian teachers will not speak out.  It is a point on which popular prepossessions are accepted as a convenient fact, even where they are felt to rest on insufficient grounds, and to lead to a most inadequate result.

And what is the consequence?  Men’s consciences are perplexed.  They ask—and there is no audible answer—Why do I observe the Sunday?  Is it on the ground p. 5of the Mosaic commandment?  If so, who has relaxed the strictness of its terms?  Where is the permission to do, what we all do, but what Israel did not, on the Sabbath day?  Who taught us that in this one instance the Christian rule of keeping the spirit of God’s commandments implies the licence to break the letter?

Questions such as these are left to answer themselves as they can.  There remains a large amount of Sabbatical observance: but it is associated with no little bondage of spirit in what is done, and with no little embarrassment of conscience in what is left undone.

And where, meanwhile, is the Christian teacher, wise enough and bold enough to proclaim from his pastoral watch-tower the yoke with which Christ has bound us, the liberty wherewith He has made us free?

Where is he who can encounter, even as St. Paul encountered it, the obloquy which assails in every age the exaltation of the everlasting Gospel, as, not the summary merely, not the expansion merely, not the interpretation merely, but the END—in p. 6every sense of that term—of every earlier Dispensation? who ventures to declare that not the fourth Commandment only, but the whole Decalogue, has ceased to be, as such, the rule of our life? that, although Christians commit neither idolatry nor murder nor perjury, it is not because God forbade these crimes by Moses, but because they are contrary to the spirit of Christ? that, in short, their obedience to the unchangeable precepts of God’s moral Law is a homage rendered not to Sinai but to Calvary; so that, if in any point they find in their own Gospel a limitation or a modification or an extension of any earlier enactment, they are conscious of no embarrassment in the regulation of their allegiance—forasmuch as the later is their law, even as the earlier was that of others?

And thus with reference to the observance of the Sabbath, and to every point of moral duty, the appeal lies now, primarily to the Scriptures of the New Testament, and secondarily to any other records which we may possess of the practice of the Apostolical age.

p. 7Nor can it be pretended, when the question is fairly examined, that the perpetuation of the Jewish Sabbath is either enjoined, or by implication encouraged, in the words or the writings of the first disciples and Apostles of our Lord.

How shall we account for the total omission, amidst precepts so multiplied upon every point of Christian duty, of all reference to the obligation of the Sabbatical rest?  From whom, if not from the Apostles, could the Gentile Christians derive their knowledge of its existence?  Yet no direction is anywhere to be found for its observance, nor yet any reproof for the neglect of it.  In the only passages in which a clear reference to it occurs in the Epistles, the language employed is that either of indifference to its retention, or even of rebuke for its revival.

We do indeed find traces in the New Testament of the existence of another day of weekly observance; a day on which the disciples came together to break bread; on which it was natural to collect their offerings; to which (before the last of the p. 8Apostles was called to his rest) was already appropriated the title of the Lord’s Day.

But that this day was neither identical with the Jewish Sabbath, nor substituted for it by any formal act of transfer, is sufficiently proved by the remarkable circumstance, that there were in the primitive age Churches in which both were observed—Saturday in remembrance of the Mosaic Sabbath, Sunday in commemoration of the Redeemer’s resurrection.  By what right shall we assume that, when the former observance died out, the latter was invested with its distinctive attributes? or that, in congregations where the former had never been practised, the latter had been, all along, synonymous with an institution with which (to judge from existing records) they had never been made acquainted?

Then, if this be so; if the Sabbath is an ordinance of the past; one of those “elements or rudiments of the world,” those “shadows of things to come,” of which “the substance and the reality is Christ;” in what sense do we still read in our Churches the fourth Commandment, and p. 9pray for grace to incline our hearts to keep it?

How low and slavish a spirit is betrayed in this anxiety to have an express law to show for our Christian Sunday.  How opposite to that which is the distinctive feature of the Christian character—an earnest desire to catch every intimation, every indication, of our Master’s will, that we may do it not as His slaves but as His children.  Enough if we found even a human institution, which testified throughout Christendom, by a speaking sign, by an act at once self-denying and beneficent, our faith in realities unseen and future.  Even this would bind us to its observance.  It would be an ordinance of God’s Providence for us.  It would be our duty to submit to it, if it were but an ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake.  And surely it would bear upon its very front the impress of a will more than human: it would bespeak itself the creation of a Divine philanthropy.  He who should presume to trifle with it—still more, he who should seek to abrogate or to nullify it for his neighbours or his p. 10countrymen—would be seen, even if this were all, to be fighting against God.

But this is not all.  We think that we see indications, from the very earliest days of which the Scriptures contain the record, of man’s need of a periodical rest, and of God’s purpose to secure it to him.

We believe that it is essential to the wellbeing of his bodily and mental structure.  That it is adapted to the preservation of his health, to the prolongation of his life, to the comfort and efficiency of his work, whether manual or intellectual.  That the man who regards every day as equal, who refuses to observe the day of relaxation, will work the worse while he does work, and decay and die the sooner.  That the man who rigidly abstains from labour and from excitement during every seventh day, will be a healthier and a happier man for this intermission, more serviceable and longer lived.  And all this we believe to have been foreseen by man’s Creator, and provided for by the Disposer of man’s heart.

Thus far, however, we have stopped short of the highest considerations.  If no other p. 11purpose were answered by the institution of the Christian Sunday, it is undeniable that the nature of the periodical rest might be left wholly to the individual taste and judgment.  It would be a matter of indifference—a matter with which conscience would have no right to intermeddle—whether it were to be spent in seclusion or in society, in worship, in novel-reading, or in travelling.

But we believe, further, that the periodical rest which is essential to the health of man’s body and to the vigour of man’s intellect, is yet more so to the wellbeing of his immortal spirit, to his education for that state in which earthly life issues.  Surrounded by ten thousand influences drawing his heart downwards and enchaining his interests upon earth, he needs the opportunity which God’s Providence has thus afforded him, of cultivating the thoughts and practising the habits which alone can survive death and occupy his everlasting energies.  Without the recurrence, at brief and regular intervals, of his day of spiritual improvement, his soul would be as incompetent p. 12to withstand the fascinations of earth, as his body to endure perpetual exercise, or his mind incessant application.

And when we thus transfer the basis of Sunday observance from the region of law to that of privilege and blessing; when we accept as God’s gift to us, for certain high and beneficent purposes, what once perhaps we regarded as a badge of subjection and servitude; how simple, comparatively, becomes every question which can affect its observance—how easy the statement, in words at least, of the principle which should guide our use of it.

The question now is, not, What is it lawful, what is it wrong, to do on the Sunday? how can I so employ it as to avoid breaking God’s Law and incurring God’s displeasure? but rather, How can I derive from it all possible good? how can I turn to the best account, for myself and others, in soul and body, the blessing which God has thus conferred upon me?

And shall those who look back through long years upon their frequent failures to improve this blessing, see no reason for the p. 13confession which bewails their past neglect of it, and the prayer which asks help to honour it hereafter?

Whatever tends to refresh the mind and body without the stimulus of an undue excitement, will be, in itself, a desirable occupation for the Christian Sunday.

But, if this relaxation of the body and mind be attended with no corresponding benefit to the soul; still more, if it involve an excitement unfavourable to the remembrance of God, so that, at the end of the day, Heaven shall be more distant than at its beginning; then that relaxation has been of a mistaken and injurious kind; the purposes of the institution have been this day rather defeated than answered; it is not so much that we have broken a law, as that we have missed a blessing; we have been unthankful for a great privilege, we have thrown away a great opportunity of good.

All this is plain enough as respects an individual: few will gainsay its truth.

But we are now concerned rather with the national observance of the Sunday.  p. 14How are we to apply these principles to the case of others? more especially, if the question be one of government, of legislation?

Let us, in the first place, take clearly into view what can, and what cannot, be done by legislation on such a subject.

It is quite idle to suppose that a Christian use of the Sunday can ever be secured by authoritative enactment.  We cannot, by all the legislation in the world, augment by one the number of the worshippers in our Churches; we cannot open one Bible, we cannot elicit one prayer, we cannot awaken in one heart the feelings of faith or hope or love.  The observance of the Sunday, as it rests not on law as its basis, so neither can it rest on legislation for its enforcement.

What then can be done?

Legislation can protect the observance of the day.  It cannot prevent him who will from desecrating it, in his heart, in his house, in thought, word, or act.  But it can limit the operation of this desecration upon others.  It can refuse to him the p. 15absolute command of the services of others in effecting this desecration.  It can coerce within somewhat narrow bounds his power to keep others waiting upon his amusements to the loss of the privileges of the day for themselves.  It can say, Such and such places shall be inaccessible on that day; such and such means of conveyance withdrawn; such and such servants of the Public excused from their attendance.

And, besides its protective power, legislation has also a strong negative operation.  There are barriers which can only be removed by its assistance.  At all events, its interposition may at any moment be invoked to stop such a removal.  It may impede the extension of Sunday travelling: it may refuse its licence to the multiplication of Sunday amusement: it may refrain from sanctioning the creation of those haunts and rendezvous of public attraction which make just the difference oftentimes between neglect and contempt, between disregard and defiance, between indifference and desecration.  It is one thing to know that a p. 16multitude of individuals, however numerous, fail to honour the day; another, to parade before the eyes of the world the legalization of that failure.

In what manner then do these remarks bear upon the particular subject now before us; the design (as it is commonly understood) of opening to the Public during certain hours of the Sunday some portions of the Crystal Palace?

I have no sympathy with an outcry founded in whole or in part upon what appears to me to be an untenable notion of the nature of our Christian Sunday.  And I confess that I could forgive a Statesman who should receive on the present occasion with deep suspicion the remonstrances of men who but three years ago fostered and aggravated the same outcry on a plea which the slightest examination would have shown to be fallacious.  Those who have lent themselves in former instances to swell the chorus of an ignorant and fanatical clamour, have no claim to attention now but that with which the actual merits of their case may furnish them.

p. 17But the two occasions are, as I believe, widely different.  The contrast is unimportant: I will come at once to the present.

And let me admit, once for all, that it is with things as they are that we have to do; not with things as they might exist in a totally opposite condition.  We must take the state of the poor man as it is, and the state of Sunday observance as it is.  We might wish indeed that both were widely different.  We might form to ourselves the picture of a poor man’s Sunday, such as in rare instances we have seen it: the clean though humble dwelling, the early prayer of the household, the open Bible, the walk to Church, the one comfortable meal of the week, the holy and loving converse of the evening, the prayer and the blessing with which the day ended as it began.  And we might say, and say with truth, that, for a family thus resting in holy union throughout its weekly festival of Christian devotion and thankfulness, no change could come that were not for the worse.  No want is here felt of anything which God has not given: enough for that happy home is the p. 18change which Sunday has brought with it over the aspect of every familiar object; the rest from labour, enjoyed with those dearest on earth, in the remembrance of One loved above all—this is all that they ask—more would destroy it.

But this, alas! is a spectacle as rare as it is beautiful: we may wish for a theoretical good, but we must choose the practical.  Next below the case just pictured, stands that of him whose piety perhaps is less fervent, his desire for relaxation less easily satisfied, and who, thirsting for one glimpse of nature, one breath of God’s air, one ray of God’s sunshine, must seek them where they can be found, must travel, in short, in quest of them.  Shall we pass upon this man a sentence of harsh, of unqualified, censure?  Shall we say that he who carries with him on the Sunday his wife and his children to some quiet country spot where he may shake off the distractions of business, refresh himself with the sights and sounds of freedom, and pray with his family in a Church less dark and less dank than he could find in the neighbourhood of his dwelling—shall we p. 19say that this man breaks God’s Law, and does despite to His holy day?  Let others record this sentence—I dare not.

But this I would say—that a freedom which he takes ought not to be made a yoke of bondage to another; that this liberty of his, so refreshing (if it be enjoyed in a Christian spirit) to soul and body, must be purchased for him at as small a cost as possible of Sunday toil on the part of others: let not the necessity which he feels, for entire relaxation on his day of rest, entail upon the servants of the Public a burdensome load of labour on a day of which they perhaps equally need the enjoyment: let the protective hand of legislation, if it be necessary, be interposed to regulate the hours and the method of his coming and going, that others may rest as well as he.

And, further, I would urge that it is essential to the beneficial effects of this indulgence, that it should be enjoyed, as far as may be, in tranquillity and retirement; that it is one thing to travel on the Sunday to a country village, and another to be immersed in the bustle and excitement of a p. 20crowded fair; that that quietness of mind and feeling, which is one of the main blessings of a Christian Sunday, is necessarily impaired if the scene of relaxation be a focus of popular attraction, involving the visitor, without the possibility of escape, in the noise and the glare of a tumultuous assembly.

Nor, once more, could I regard as a matter of indifference the authoritative bisection of the Sunday into a morning of worship and an afternoon of pleasure.  Whatever be the character of the day, it is one, not twofold.  It is indeed one of the chief duties—perhaps the chief ostensible duty—of the day, to attend its public services, but we have no warrant for representing its character as changed when the first or even the second of those services is ended: whatever it be—whether a day of devotion, or a day of inaction, or a day of amusement—that it is throughout: and, however little it may be designed, the effect of the proposed distinction would assuredly be, not so much to increase the sanctity of the morning as to destroy that p. 21of the evening.  Henceforth the claims of evening worship,—and still more the claims of the whole day upon a thoughtful and serious spirit,—would be materially disparaged: so far as the effects of this measure extend, they will cause the day to close at noon: and what will it be thenceforth to those countless thousands of our countrymen who are debarred by absolute necessity from attending the service of the morning?

I know it may be urged that such arguments presuppose the existence of a very different state of Sunday observance from the present; that the question really lies not between the Crystal Palace and the Church, but between the Crystal Palace and the street or the gin-shop.  I believe, however, that no gallery of painting or of sculpture will have any abiding attractions for the class thus described: tastes so brutish will not be transformed by any such expedient: they will remain what they are, until a mightier engine shall bear upon them: no display of art will allure them to civilization.  The class really affected by the change proposed will be p. 22that already described; neither the highest of all, nor the very lowest.  Those who now travel on the Sunday in a desultory manner will then be found congregated in large numbers upon a single point: and the alteration, so far as it extends, will be for the worse.

It remains only to assert with all earnestness the importance of the contemplated innovation.  It is the first step in a course which lies already as in a map before us.  The opening of one such building is virtually the opening of all.  The demand for this extension may be gradual; but, whenever and wherever made, it must be granted.  At all events, the principle is gone.  England becomes like other nations.  That great spectacle of reverence for God which was afforded last year in the face of assembled Europe can be presented no more.  The very building which bore so noble a testimony is itself a year later to utter a different language.  Yet where, practically, is the distinction between the two cases?  What Sunday was, Sunday is.  If it was an act of becoming reverence to close the p. 23Great Exhibition on that day, how is it that what was religion then is superstition now?  Assuredly the effects, for good or evil, of such a proceeding will not be less striking or less extensive now than then: then too they would have been temporary, now they will be permanent.

If there be yet time to pause—and there is time, for Parliament, at all events, has not yet spoken—may it be seized and used.  It is one thing for an individual, or a host of individuals, to disregard or to abuse their day of rest: it is another thing for the nation to interpose to sanction that neglect, and thus to fling away by her own act a badge which, once lost, can never be resumed.

         November 2, 1852.


p. 24The following Address will be found to comprise the main topics above insisted upon.

To the Right Honourable
The Earl of Derby,
&c. &c. &c.

My Lord,

“We the undersigned venture to express to your Lordship with all deference the regret with which we have heard of an intention to open to the Public on the Sunday (with some limitations) the new Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

“We deem it unnecessary for our present purpose to enter into any discussion of the general question of Sunday observance.

“We are far from desiring to see such an observance of the day as would rob it of any portion of its character as a day of refreshment and of Christian commemoration.

“We can sympathize to the full in the p. 25hard lot of those whose whole week is spent in confinement and toil, and to whom Sunday alone brings the opportunity of seeing the light or breathing the air of freedom.

“But we value above all price that national recognition of the existence of God, and of the blessings of Christianity, which has been made for so many ages by this country in its maintenance of the observance of our weekly day of rest.

“We should lament the sanction, by a Royal Charter, of a departure from the principle of this observance.

“We consider the concentration of Sunday travelling upon a single focus of attraction, to be a far greater evil than the more desultory pursuit of health and relaxation at present practised by the lower orders on that day.

“And we should feel that the noble example of national regard for the Sunday, displayed last year before the eyes of Europe in the closing of the Great Exhibition on that day, was ill followed up by giving a public sanction to an opposite practice in the case of a building which p. 26professes to be intended to perpetuate the same magnificent design.

“For these reasons, we beg leave most respectfully to express our hope that the power now entrusted to the hands of your Lordship may not be employed in the accomplishment of a project which we believe in our hearts to be unfavourable to the Christian character of the nation.

“We have the honour to be,”
&c. &c. &c.


p. 27By the same Author.

1849 AND 1850.