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At the Anti-Sabbath Convention

March 24, 1848 — Anti-Sabbath Convention, Melodeon Hall, Boston MA


[Morning session]

I have little to add to what has been already said upon this subject. Much that I could not have spoken so well, has been said for me by others. I am glad to be here, to have an opportunity of hearing the discussions, and also to give countenance to this important movement for the progress of the religious world. The distinction has been clearly and ably drawn, between mere forms and rituals of the Church, and practical goodness; between the consecration of man, and the consecration of days, the dedication of the Church, and the dedication of our lives to God.

But might we not go further, and shew that we are not to rely so much upon books, even upon the Bible itself, as upon the higher revelation within us? The time is come, and especially in New England it is come, that man should judge of his own self what is right, and that he should seek authority less from the Scriptures. It is well, however, inasmuch as the faith of a large part of the professors of Christianity rests upon this book, to shew that certain also of their own teachers bear witness to the truth we advocate.

It seemed to me that the views of the last speaker went further to sanctify the book, than his own principles would justify. I thought the same of the remarks of Theodore Parker, made yesterday, with regard to the day, and wished to allude to it in his presence, but there was no opportunity. There seemed to be a little confusion, when he spoke of not hallowing the day, and yet considered it essential that there should be this religious observance. Does not such an admission lead the advocates of it into a kind of compromise? and to “build again that which they are called to destroy”? It is observable, in nearly all the advance steps in theological points, particularly when there is a reluctance to acknowledge the heresy, and a desire to appear orthodox.

Those who differ from us would care little for an Anti-Sabbath Convention, which should come to the conclusion that, after all, it would be best to have one day in seven set apart for religious purposes. Few intelligent clergymen will now admit, that they consecrate the day in any other sense, or that there is any inherent holiness in it. If you should agree that this day should be for more holy purposes than other days, you have granted much that they ask. Is not this Convention prepared to go farther than this? to dissent from this idea, and declare openly, that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day? That it is the consecration of all our time to God and to goodness, that is required of us? Not by demure piety; not by avoiding innocent recreation on any day of the week; but by such a distribution of time as shall give sufficient opportunity for such intellectual culture and spiritual improvement, as our mental and religious nature requires. There would not then be the necessity of a devotion of the seventh part of our time, even for the rational improvement that our friend yesterday considered so essential.

In the Scripture authority, however, as it has been cited, it might have been shown, that, even in the times of the most rigid Jewish observance, it was regarded as a shadow only of good things to come. “I gave them also my Sabbaths to be a sign unto them.” The distinction was then made, by the more faithful and discerning of their people, between mere formal worship and practical goodness. “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.” When these things were not done, even the temple-worship became an abomination; the Sabbaths, the holy meetings, he was weary of them. Their clear-sighted prophets spoke in the name of the Highest, to those who had violated the law of right: “I hate, I despise your feast-days. The new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.” They were called to amend their ways and their doings—to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. There is now, as there ever has been, but one test — one standard of true worship.

If we were better acquainted with the doctrines and principles of the ancients, of those who are not regarded as coming within any divine enclosure, but who are looked upon as heathen, we should find abundant recognition of practical Christianity. Who is it that tells us that the testimony of a Socrates is not equally corroborative of truth, with the testimony of a Paul? That certain authorities, bound in a certain way, are of higher credence, than that which has come through other channels? Man is man, and his rational and spiritual natures are worthy of respect. His testimony is corroborative in every age of the world, let it come from what source it may, while in accordance with truth.

It has been said here, that we are not bound by the Old Testament, but are we to bind ourselves to the New Testament authority? Enough has already been quoted from that book, to prove all that we would ask, with regard to the day. There is no testimony, no evidence there found, that will authorize the consecration of one day above another. Jesus recognized no such distinction; and the Apostle Paul said, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, unto the Lord he doth regard it; and he that regardeth not the day, unto the Lord he doth not regard it.” These equally give God thanks. There is all this liberal view, and it is well to bring it before the people. But, after all, are we to take this as our sufficient authority? Suppose some of them had been so under their Jewish prejudices, as to teach the importance of the observance of the day; would that have made it obligatory on us? No, we are not called to follow implicitly any outward authority. Suppose that Jesus himself had said, with regard to the day, as he did in allusion to John’s baptism, “Suffer it to be so now,” would that have made it binding on us? Is the example of the ancients, whether Prophets or Apostles, or the “beloved Son of God” himself, sufficient for the entire regulation of our action at the present day? No: Jesus testified to his disciples, that when the spirit of truth was come, they should be taught all things, and should do the things which he did, and greater. The people were not then prepared for more. The time would come when that which was spoken in the ear, in closets, should be proclaimed on the house-top. He urged upon his disciples to keep their eye single, that their whole body might be full of light.

His practice, then, in any of these observances, is not sufficient authority for us. We are not required to walk in the exact path of our predecessors, in any of our steps through life. We are to conform to the spirit of the present age, to the demand of the present life. Our progress is dependent upon our acting out our convictions. New bottles for new wine now, as in days past. Let us not be ashamed of the gospel that we profess, so far as to endeavor to qualify it with any orthodox ceremonies or expressions. We must be willing to stand out in our heresy; especially, as already mentioned, when the duty of Sabbath observance is carried to such an extent, that it is regarded, too generally, a greater crime to do an innocent thing on the first day of the week, — to use the needle, for instance — than to put a human being on the auction-block on the second day; — a greater crime to engage in harmless employment on the first day, than to go into the field of battle, and slay our fellow-beings, either on that or other days of the week! While there is this palpable inconsistency, it is demanded of us, not only to speak plainly, but to act out our convictions, and not seem to harmonize with the religious world generally, when our theory is not in accordance with theirs.

Many religionists apparently believe that they are consecrating man to the truth and the right, when they convert him to their creeds — to their scheme of salvation, and plan of redemption. They, therefore, are very zealous for the tradition of their fathers, and for the observance of days; while at the same time, as already mentioned, they give countenance to war, slavery, and other evils; not because they are wholly reckless of the condition of man, but because such is their sectarian idea. Their great error is in imagining that the highest good is found in their church. Hence their zeal and proselyting spirit.

The religious world ought to be disabused of this idea, and made to understand the real consecration of time. In order to do this, not only should this Convention be held, and resolutions, urging the carrying out of our principles, be passed; but we should be prepared to issue tracts, and scatter them over the land. This has been done, to some extent. There are several copies here, of a tract published a year or two ago in Philadelphia, on this question, by one, who, not feeling qualified to write, spoke to his friend who could write, but had not the means to publish, and agreed to furnish the means. This is the right kind of zeal, leading to individual labor, not mere conventional interest. The more it is called for, on account of the extraordinary efforts in holding Sabbath Conventions, &c. Men of talents and reputed religious worth are going about the country, making exertions to establish a Sabbath, to increase its obligations, and the necessity of its observance, on the part of the people.

The editors of some of the daily papers in Philadelphia, especially since the issue of the Anti-Sabbath Call, are catering to the religious sentiment, praising the labors of Edwards and others, in travelling about for this purpose. In proportion as these publications go forth, should there be zeal on the part of the Anti-Sabbatarians, as they are called by way of distinction,  to spread clear, intelligent, and liberal views on the subject. There should, therefore, be a generous appropriation of means and funds to circulate information, and to enlighten the people, and a reasonable portion of our time and talents devoted to the cause. The reformer should advocate a portion of every day of the week, for mental and spiritual improvement, as well as innocent recreation, rather than give sanction to the idea, that the present arrangement is a wise distribution of our time.

In the existing state of society, while the laborer is over-tasked, and has so little respite from his toil, we may indeed rejoice, that, by common consent, he has even this one day in seven of rest; when if he choose, he ought to be encouraged to go out with his family, in steamboats and railroad cars; and in the fields and woods he might offer acceptable homage and worship to the Highest. This exercise of his right need not interfere at all with the conscientious action of those, who believe they may more acceptably worship God in temples made with hands. But if we take the ground, that all should rather assemble on that day, to worship, and hear what is called religious instruction, there is danger of our yielding the very point for which we are called together.

Many of us verily believe that there is, on the whole, material harm done to the people, in these false observances, and in the dogmas which are taught as religious truth. So believing, we should endeavor to discourage this kind of devotion of the time, and correct these errors, by plain speaking and honest walking — rather than, by our example and our admissions, do that which shall go to strengthen superstition, and increase idolatry in the land.

[Afternoon session]

Our friend makes a difference between calling the day Sabbath, and recognizing it as the Lord’s day. Is not this a distinction in terms only, but the same thing in fact? The mere change of the day from the seventh to the first of the week, does not meet all the wants of the people on this subject. We may call it Sabbath or Lord’s day, and be equally in darkness as to the nature of true worship.

We may deceive ourselves, in our care not to offend our neighbors, who are Sabbatarians, or Lord’s day observers. For their sakes, we will seem to observe the day; refraining from that which, on another day, would be right. We will not permit our children to play in the yard, or be seen ourselves doing that which would wound them. Upon a closer examination of our motives, it may be our own love of approbation and selfishness that is wounded. If so, there is a kind of hypocrisy in the act of seeming to be what we are not. We have need to guard ourselves against any compromise for the praise of man’s sake.

For years after my mind was satisfied on this subject, if engaged in sewing, on the first day, and a domestic or other person entered the room, the work was concealed, with the plea that their feelings should not be hurt. But, on being asked, why I did not also, for the same reason, go to the communion table, or submit to baptism, I could not answer satisfactorily; and was at length convinced that more harm was done to myself and children, in the little deception practiced, than in working “openly, uncondemned, and in secret doing nothing.” As advocates of the truth, we must be willing to be “made of no reputation,” to lose caste among our people. If we seek to please men, we “make the cross of Christ (to use a symbolical expression) of no effect.” Let us, therefore, stand fast in the liberty wherewith the truth has made us free.

. . .

I did not ask for the reading of these resolutions again, with the intention of speaking upon them, but that, in justice to him who presented them, they should have an intelligent hearing and understanding, and passage, if it be so judged, in this Convention.

Some of them do not appear in accordance with the resolutions already passed here; and the tendency of them, I fear, would be rather to strengthen the superstition that prevails on this subject, than to lessen it. The object of this Convention is to remove this superstition, as well as to take measures for the repeal of all penal enactments to enforce the observance of the day. So far, its course has been in accordance with its object, as published to the world. It is important that we should carry out consistently our principles and proposed measures.

Is it needful that reformers should ever express themselves in the manner in which some of these resolutions are expressed, with regard to any institutions that they believe might rightly pass away? Those who are prone to adhere to their cherished customs and forms, will not lightly yield them. The sectarian will not give up his Sabbath too soon.

The right has been sufficiently admitted, in the speeches made here, and the resolutions passed, that all who choose should voluntarily associate themselves in the observance of the day, for as long a time as it may yield them any profit. But it would be too much to ask of us, that we should propose to do anything to continue the sacredness of the day.

If we assert that, in the attempt to strengthen its observance by appeals to superstition and ignorance, more harm will accrue to the cause of pure religion than good. Do we fear that our devotion and piety will be called in question? I trust the reformers of this character will give practical evidence, in their everyday life, of their allegiance to God. If their fruits shall testify to their faith, they need not fear the stigma or the opprobrium of the bigoted worshipper, because of their not holding up one day above another.

There are various reasons for keeping this Convention on very simple ground — not blending it with any of the popular views of the subject, which prevail to such an extent. We shall do more, in this way, to promote the cause of practical Christianity, than by yielding to the prevailing idea, that worship is more acceptable on one day in seven, than doing right every day of the week. The character of many of these reformers — their interest in the various concerns of humanity, the sacrifices they have made for the good of their fellow-beings—all testify to their devotion to God and humanity. They feel it incumbent upon them to be exceedingly careful in their conduct on all the days of the week, so that those who speak evil of them as evil-doers may be ashamed when they falsely accuse their good conversation in Christ. Numbers of these have seen to the end of gathering together for religious worship. They understand the vision of John in the Revelations, describing the New Jerusalem, the holy city; and he “saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” These cultivate the religious sentiment every day. They feel in their hearts the raising of praise and hallelujah unto their God, when they go forth into the fields and groves. God’s temple is there; and they no longer need to enter the outward temple to perform their vows, and make their offerings. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”

There are signs of progress in the movements of the age. The superstitions and idols in our midst are held up to the view of the people. Inquiring minds are asking, “who shall show us any good?” These are dissatisfied with the existing forms and institutions of religious sects, and are demanding a higher righteousness — uprightness in everyday life. The standard of creeds and forms must be lowered, while that of justice, peace, and love one to another, must be raised higher and higher. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.” We wait for no imagined millennium—no speculation or arithmetical calculation — no Bible research — to ascertain when this shall be. It only needs that the people examine for themselves — not pin their faith on ministers’ sleeves, but do their own thinking, obey the truth, and be made free. The kingdom of God is nigh, even at the door. He dwelleth in your midst, though ye know it not. One of your own poets hath said —

“All mankind are one in spirit, and an
instinct bears along,
Round the earth’s electric circle, the
swift clash of right or wrong.”

This is no longer the peculiar creed of the Quaker. It is coming to be universally acknowledged in the hearts of the people, and, if faithful, the bright day of liberty, and knowledge, and truth, shall be hastened.

Many clear views have been held out before us during this Convention, to which there has been a ready response, shewing that we are ripe for advancement — that it is of more importance to live up to our convictions of right, than to subscribe to the creed of any church. May we let our light so shine, that men may see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven, even though our worship of him may be after the way called heresy. We may be instructed by the prayer of the Apostle Paul for his brethren: “I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates; for we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.”

Is it not indicative of great progress that here, in Boston, in Puritan New England, where the Sabbath has been so long regarded with much zeal and religious devotion, — even here, there can be a large gathering of the people from day to day, and the interest continued to the end of such a Convention as this? that they can listen and bear so much? that they can receive the resolutions read here, and passed almost unanimously? I rejoice herein; yea, and will rejoice.

Some remarks have been made, tending to discourage any appeal to the State Legislatures on this subject; we have nothing to do with “the powers that be,” but must trust the subject entirely to the moral sentiment of the people. But is not the very act of petitioning an appeal, and often an effective one, to the moral sense of the people? It is sometimes only by remonstrances and petitions to the rulers and statesmen of the land, that the ear of a great portion of the people is reached; and by going from house to house to obtain signers, an opportunity presents itself to scatter truth, and to enlighten the mind.

It has been so, to a great extent, in the Anti-Slavery movement. Converts have been made in this way, who are now devoting themselves to the cause of human freedom; and by reiterated appeals to the Legislatures, much has been effected for the bondman. In Pennsylvania, every facility for recovering the fugitive, and the law by which man could be held as property for six months, were removed from the statute books, last year, by the unanimous vote of both houses of the Legislature.

The success attendant on these measures should encourage us to adopt similar modes of action on this subject. Let us go away impressed with the importance of making every effort, that will induce inquiry among the people. What is done here, will be limited in its extent; but if we carry the subject home with us, and act there, we may effect something.

The Abolitionists endeavored early to enlist the pulpit and the press in behalf of the suffering and dumb. They organized societies, scattered tracts, and sent forth the living agent; and, behold, the whole country is aroused to the subject. May it prove a healthful agitation, resulting in proclaiming liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof!

In this case, may not similar measures be resorted to, with equally good effect? Every fetter which superstition and sectarian bigotry have imposed, must be broken, before the mind of man will be free. The pulpit and the press may yet be enlisted even in this cause. There are many thinking minds. The people do not love to have their prophets prophesying so falsely as they have done; and they will demand an examination into this subject. If the reformer be faithful to his convictions, and make no compromise with the religion of the day; if he do not seem to believe that for which he has no respect; if he come not to the table of the Lord unworthily; the time will not be long, before the clergymen of the various sects will investigate this subject with other spectacles than those they have hitherto worn.

The zeal now manifested to increase the sanctity of the Sabbath, is not in accordance with the spirit of the age. In travelling through New York and Ohio, last year, I mourned the evidence of this sectarian zeal. Tracts were scattered through the length of the cars, on this subject, appealing to ignorance and credulity, and gross superstition. The judgments of Heaven, in numerous anecdotes, were stated as falling on the Sabbath-breaker. It is unworthy the age, when we have such works as Combe on the Constitution of Man, so freely circulated, as well as others, shewing the true workings of the natural laws, and their unavoidable results. We must, then, do our part to counteract these injurious influences of widespread error.

This is no new subject. I am one of the older members of this Convention. I have been familiar with these views from my early days, being accustomed to hear the remarks of the venerable Elias Hicks, who bore his testimony against all penal enactments for enforcing the observance of the Sabbath. He travelled extensively through New York and Pennsylvania, and after much observation, came to the conclusion, that crime and licentious indulgence were greatly increased by the existing arrangement of society, on this subject. He remarked for himself, that he was careful on the first day of the week, as on the fourth, not to do so much work in the morning, as would unfit him for the enjoyment of his meeting; but, after meeting, on either day, if he had a field of wheat which needed cradling, he would not hesitate to do it; and the law forbidding it on the first day was oppressive on his conscience. His view was, that there should be such regulation of time as should over-tax none with labor on any day of the week — that darkness was spread over the land half the time, when man might rest; and after such devotional exercises as he might choose for himself, he should have the advantage of innocent relaxation. A person, opposing him, stated how he observed the day — that he wished all to be quiet — no secular business, &c. Elias replied, “I consider thee as much under the effect of superstition, as thou would be in the observance of any other of the Jewish rites.”

During that discussion, impressions were made which I have ever remembered. They were strengthened, in after years, and I now feel the more prepared, by my feeble expression, to encourage those who have been pioneers in other labors of reform.



Source: Mott, Lucretia, in Lucretia Mott Speaks: The Essential Speeches and Sermons, eds. Christopher Densmore, Carol Faulkner, (University of Illinois Press) 2017.