This heading suggests what may very actually be called a new problem in our circles.
It is new in the sense that until now we virtually took for granted that a Christian would not engage in Sunday labor. Even those who never see the inside of a church building considered six days of labor sufficient for any man and appreciated one day in seven as a day of relaxation to be spent in joyriding, visiting or frequenting various places of amusement. But today a radical change is evident, brought about especially by the war in Europe and the resultant defense program which demands a twenty-four hour day and a seven day week for defense factories. Many of our men are suddenly affected by this change. The problem may introduce itself gradually, but no less certainly. At first the laboring man may only be asked to work late Saturday evenings or to begin early Sunday evenings, and already Sabbath observance in the real sense of the word is threatened. Other inroads upon the Sabbath follow; he is urged to work from Saturday midnight into the Sunday morning, or even all day on an occasional Sunday. To give in means that the way is gradually paved for a Sunday work day.
What are we doing about it?
Our churches have already expressed their stand on the matter, particularly by petitioning the government, for the sake of those who keep the Lord’s Sabbath, to withdraw their decision as to Sunday labor in the defense plants.
But our own stand? What are they to do about it whose jobs are involved? Some have taken these jobs as a haven of escape from the Unions, whose tentacles are reaching out in every direction to take all industry and labor in their grasp. For these and for others as well, the problem becomes increasingly weighty.
Yet when we speak of a problem, it should be borne in mind that that problem is not whether or not a Christian can engage in Sunday labor! There can be no difference of opinion among us on the question whether Scripture demands of the Christian that he rest one day in seven. Nor whether a Christian is always duty bound under all and every circumstance to abide by the Word of God. We are all heartily agreed that Christianity and Sunday labor are incompatible with each other and that no circumstances of any kind can ever change the divine institution of the Sabbath.
One voice of dissent is sometimes heard. The argument is raised, that if it be permitted for our boys in the army to fight and to even go out on maneuvers, on the Sabbath because of their present peculiar relation to the government and their duty to be subject
to those in authority, cannot this same argument be raised for those who labor in the defense factories? To which can be answered very briefly that no one is drafted to work in the defense plants, nor is the relation of authority and obedience the same in the defense plant as in the army. The issues should not be confused.
Sunday labor can only be a problem for us from this aspect, on what basis is it impossible for a Christian to be forced to engage in Sunday labor?
Many plausible objections to Sunday labor are raised; it is but the question whether they can stand the test as real objections.
One of them is the very materialistic objection that it is not good for any person to work seven days of the week. Man was created, so it is said, to work six days and to rest one day. France, where in the year 1793 the seven-day week was abolished and with it the Sunday, is sometimes cited as an example of the devastating influence both upon the morals and upon the health and manhood of the nation which abolishes the Sunday. Let us grant that God certainly had His own divine and wise purpose in instituting the seventh day as a day of rest, and that man can never ignore the ordinances of God without suffering serious consequences. These consequences are very concretely evident in all of our lives. Be that as it may, the mere need of a “day off” is as yet no argument against Sunday labor. It is very questionable, to say the least, whether a mere seven day routine would necessarily prove to “jeopardize man’s physical, mental and nervous system.” I am thinking now particularly of the mother in a family of children with meals to prepare and children to care for 365 days of the year. The laboring man, on the other hand, has an eight hour day, which allows for plenty of time for relaxation. But the point is, that even if an individual does have need of one day in seven for relaxation he can take this on any other day as well as on Sunday. The problem of Sunday labor is not yet solved.
Another objection, even more selfish than the first, is the plea that a person has a right to one day in seven to be spent as he himself sees fit. He owes it to himself and to his family to get away from the rush and bustle of business or industry and to find a quiet retreat in the Sunday atmosphere of his home. One would almost begin to hope that the consciousness of parental responsibility was pushing itself to the fore. If only that part of the day that is spent in the home were utilized in Christian fellowship and “training the child in the way he should go.” But in many cases the Sunday atmosphere of the home means that some of the family are enwrapped in the hush of sleep, others are lolling about in easy chairs, listening to the radio or digesting some light piece of fiction, while still others are busily engaged in a pleasant pastime, and all are enjoying themselves to the full. Are these the same individuals who have conscientious objections to Sunday labor? How long will it be, do you suppose, before their consciences will allow them to also work on Sunday, especially if it should become “compulsory?”
There is still a third objection which is very concretely expressed by saying: “I am accustomed to go to church on Sunday, therefore I cannot work.” Fact is, that we have been born and reared in the church, have always been taught to go to church on Sunday, and we have become so accustomed to it that Sunday would not be Sunday if we did not go to church. Besides, our whole community, more particularly our friends and immediate relatives would stand aghast if we would take up the dinner bucket instead of donning our Sunday apparel on Sunday morning. Going to church on the specified time seems the only natural and proper thing to do.
But God has a very amazing way of putting those “natural and proper” things to the test, proving us in the fiery trial whether we do those things “by nature” or by faith. Even the heathens are a law unto themselves and do by nature the things contained in the law. (Rom. 2:14). Not motivated by love to God, but purely by selfish motives the wicked world will abstain from stealing, murder and the like. We also may refrain from certain inordinate acts because of decency or training; may even become accustomed to live very properly and to attend church very faithfully. But if these things are done purely “by nature” they are to be condemned as enmity against God, for “we are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbors” (Heid. Cat., Lord’s Day 2). Nothing that is done in enmity against God can ever be branded as good. And if we do these things merely to be seen of men we are no better than the Pharisees who were condemned by Jesus as white-washed sepulchers.
Nor is the mere fact that we have always “kept the Sabbath” a guarantee that we shall continue to do so in the future. Christ may also say to us as to the rich young ruler, “yet lackest thou one thing; sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shaft have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” And unless our hearts are filled with a godly sorrow the demand will be too great for us. Custom may have a very firm grip on us, but when the choice must be made between your position, the bread on your table and your time-tried custom, custom succumbs. Although it may seem ever so difficult to break with a certain practice, and may even cost you a few pangs of conscience, you can become accustomed not to go to church, not to recite your prayers and not to pay the slightest attention to Sabbath observance. He who builds his house on custom builds on sand.
There Is but one thing that can stand the fiery trial of temptation, and that is faith. We must once more be impressed with the fact that the Sabbath is an institution of God for His Church. God has entrusted unto us a reflection of His own, divine Covenant life in order that we may enter into His fellowship and experience even in this life a foretaste of the eternal Rest that remaineth in Christ Jesus our Lord. On the Sabbath we are called to desist from all our daily labors and to banish every earthly care in order that we may be exclusively occupied with things heavenly and spiritual. Only then, when the day is spent in congregating with God’s people and engaging ourselves in things spiritual can the Sabbath have a sanctifying influence upon our whole lives and give us a foretaste of the blessedness of the life to come.
Come what may we cannot relinquish our Sabbath rest, no, not even for compulsory Sunday labor. Especially as the evil day draws near our need for real Sabbath rest increases rather than decreases. Now more than ever we need the communion of saints and a firm grip on the unfailing promises of God. Now with renewed determination we must hold that which we have.
If our spiritual morale is broken now already, when we have not yet suffered unto blood, how shall we ever be able to stand in the future? It may involve a certain amount of deprivation or even suffering for some of us, but “we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience expedience. and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
We, not only as churches, but also as individuals must hold our ground in the confidence that faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Be ye, therefore, “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord.”