The Sunday Christian
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
Two things are required to make a Christian: piety towards God — and charity towards men. The first has relation to worship of God; and in the last — all social duties are involved. Of the great importance of charity in the Christian character, some idea may be gained by the pointed question asked by an apostle — "If you love not your brother whom you have seen — then how can you love God whom you have not seen?" There is no mistaking the meaning of this. It says, in the plainest language — "Piety without charity is nothing!" And yet how many thousands and hundreds of thousands around us expect to get to Heaven by Sunday religion alone!
Through the week they reach out their hands for money on the right and on the left, so eager for its attainment, that little or no regard is paid to the interests of others; and on Sunday, with a pious face, they attend church and enter into the most holy acts of worship, fondly imagining that they can be saved by mere acts of piety, while no regard for their fellow-man is in their hearts!
Such a man was Brian Rowley. His religion was of so pure a stamp, that it would not bear the world's rough contact, and, therefore, it was never brought into the world. He left the world to take care of itself when the Sunday morning broke; and when the Sunday morning closed, he went back into the world to look after his own interests. Every Sunday he progressed a certain way towards Heaven, and then stood still for a week, in order that he might take proper care of his dollars and cents.
Business men who had transactions with Mr. Rowley generally kept their eyes open. If they did not do it at the first operation, they rarely omitted it afterwards, and for sufficient reason; he was sharp at making a bargain, and never felt satisfied unless he obtained some advantage. Men engaged in mercantile pursuits were looked upon, as a general thing, as ungodly in their lives, and therefore, in a certain sense, "outsiders." To make good bargains out of these, was only to fight them with their own weapons; and he was certainly good at such work. In dealing with his brethren of the same faith, he was rather more guarded, and pretended a contempt for worldly things, which he did not feel.
We said that the religion of Mr. Rowley did not go beyond the pious duties of the Sunday. This must be amended. His piety flowed into certain benevolent operations of the day; he contributed to the support of Indian and Foreign Missions, and was one of the managers on a Tract Board. In the affairs of the Ceylonese and South-Sea Islanders, he took a warm interest, and could talk eloquently about the heathen.
Not far from Mr. Brian Rowley's place of business was the store of a man named Lane, whose character had been cast originally in a different mold. He was not a church-going man, because, as he said, he didn't want to be "thought a hypocrite." In this he displayed a weakness. At one time he owned a pew in the same church to which Rowley was attached, and attended church regularly, although he did not attach himself to the church, nor receive its ordinances. His pew was near that of Mr. Rowley, and he had a good opportunity for observing the peculiar manner in which the latter performed his devotions. Unfortunately for his good opinion of the pious Sunday worshiper — they were brought into rather close contact during the week in matters of business, when Mr. Lane had opportunities of contrasting his piety — and charity. The lack of agreement in these two pre-requisites of a genuine Christian disgusted Lane, and caused him so much annoyance on Sunday that he finally determined to give up his pew and remain at home. A disposition to carp at professors of religion was manifested from this time; the whole were judged by Rowley as a sample.
One dull day a man named Gregory, a sort of busybody in the neighborhood, came into the store of Mr. Lane and said to him — "What do you think of our friend Rowley? Is he a good Christian?"
"He's a pretty fair Sunday Christian," replied Lane.
"What is that?" asked the man.
"A hypocrite, to use plain language."
"That's pretty hard talk," said Gregory.
"Do you think so?"
"Yes. When you call a man a hypocrite, you make him out, in my opinion, about as bad as he can well be."
"Call him a Sunday Christian, then."
"A Sunday Christian?"
"Yes; that is, a man who puts his religion on every Sunday, as he does his Sunday coat; and puts it away again carefully on Monday morning, so that it will receive no injury in everyday contact with the world."
"I believe with you, that Rowley doesn't bring much of his religion into his business."
"No, nor as much common honesty as would save him from Hell."
"He doesn't expect to be saved by keeping the moral law."
"There'll be a poor chance for him, in my opinion, if he's judged finally by that code."
"You don't seem to have a very high opinion of our friend Rowley?"
"I own that I used to go to church; but his pious face was ever before me, and his psalm-singing ever in my ears. Was it possible to look at him and not think of his grasping, selfish, overreaching conduct in all his business transactions through the week? No, it was not possible for me. And so, in disgust, I gave up my pew, and haven't been to church since."
The next man whom Gregory met, he made the repository of what Lane had said about Rowley. This person happened to be a member of the church, and felt scandalized by the remarks. After a little reflection he concluded to inform Mr. Rowley of the free manner in which Mr. Lane had spoken of him.
"Called me a hypocrite!" exclaimed the indignant Mr. Rowley, as soon as he was advised of the free manner in which Mr. Lane had talked about him.
"So I understand. Gregory was my informant."
Mr. Gregory was called upon, and confirmed the statement. Rowley was highly indignant, and while the heat of his anger was upon him, called at the store of Mr. Lane, in company with two members of his church, who were not at all familiar with his business character, and therefore, held him in pretty high estimation as a man of piety and sincerity.
The moment Mr. Lane saw these three men enter his place of business, he had a suspicion of their errand.
"Can I have some private conversation with you?" asked Mr. Rowley, with a countenance as solemn as the grave.
"Certainly," replied Mr. Lane, not the least discomposed. "Walk back into my counting-room. We shall be entirely alone there. Do you wish your friends present?"
"I do," was gravely replied; "I brought them for that purpose."
"Walk back, gentlemen," said Lane, as he turned to lead the way.
The four men retired to the little office of the merchant in the back part of the store. After they were seated, Lane said:
"Well, Mr. Rowley, I am ready to hear what you have to say."
Mr. Rowley cleared his throat two or three times, and then said, in a voice that indicated a good deal of inward disturbance:
"I understand that you have been making rather free use of my name of late."
"Indeed! in what way?" Lane was perfectly self-possessed.
"I am told that you went so far as to call me a hypocrite." The voice of Rowley trembled.
"I said you were a Sunday Christian," replied Lane.
"What do you mean by that?" was peremptorily demanded.
"A man whose religion is altogether a Sunday affair. One who expects to get to Heaven by pious observances and church-goings on the Sunday, without being over-particular as to the morality of his conduct through the week."
"Morality! do you pretend to say that I am an immoral man?" said Rowley, with much heat.
"Don't get into a passion!" returned Lane, coolly. "That will not help us at all in this grave matter."
Rowley quivered in every nerve; but the presence of his two brethren admonished him that a Christian temper was very necessary to be maintained on the occasion.
"Do you charge me with lack of morality?" he said, with less visible excitement.
"I do — that is, according to my code of morality."
"Upon what do you base your code?" asked one of the witnesses of this rather strange interview.
"On the Bible," replied Lane.
"Indeed!" was answered, with some surprise; "on what part of it?"
"On every part. But more particularly that passage in the New Testament where the whole of the law and the prophets is condensed in a single passage, enjoining love to our neighbor as well as God."
Rowley and his friends looked surprised at this remark.
"Explain yourself," said the former, with a knit brow.
"That is easily done. The precept here given, and it comes from the highest authority, expressly declares, as I understand it, religion to consist in acting justly toward all men — as well as in pious acts towards God. If a man loves not his brother whom he has seen — then how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
"Does our brother Rowley deny that?" asked the men present.
"If a man's life is any index to his faith, I would say that he does," replied Mr. Lane.
A deep crimson overspread the face of Mr. Rowley.
"I didn't expect insult when I came here," said he in a trembling voice.
"Nor have I offered any," replied Mr. Lane.
"You have thought proper to ask me a number of very pointed questions, and I have merely answered them according to my views of truth."
"You make a very sweeping declaration," said one of the friends of Rowley. "Suppose you give some proof of your assertion?"
"That I can readily do if it is desired."
"I desire it, then," said Rowley.
"Do you remember the five bales of cotton you sold to Peterson?" inquired Mr. Lane.
Rowley replied that he did, but evinced some uneasiness of manner at the question.
"They were damaged," said Lane.
"I sold them as I bought them," returned Rowley.
"Did you buy them as damaged?"
"No, I bought the cotton as a good article."
"And sold it as good?"
Mr. Rowley seemed a little confused.
"I sold the cotton at twelve cents a pound," was the reply. "Nothing was said about the quality."
"Twelve cents is the price of a first-quality article. If you had been asked by Peterson if the cotton were in good condition, would you have answered affirmatively?"
"Do you think I would tell a lie?" asked Mr. Rowley, indignantly.
"Our acts are the most perfect expressions of our intentions," replied Mr. Lane. "You were deceived in your purchase of the cotton; the article proved so near valueless, as not to be really worth three cents a pound. You discovered this, as I have the best reasons for knowing, almost as soon as it came into your possession; and yet you offered it to Peterson, who, not suspecting for a moment that anything was wrong, bought it at the regular market-rate as first-quality. You saved yourself; but Peterson, though not a professor of religion, was too honest to put his bad bargain off upon another. Now, if that act, on your part, was loving your neighbor as yourself, I must own to a very perverted understanding of the sacred precept. I, though no church member, would have put my head into the fire rather than do such an act!"
Mr. Rowley, much confused by so direct a charge, attempted to explain the matter away, alleging that he did not think that the article was so badly damaged — that he sold as he bought — that it wasn't right that he should bear all the loss, with much more to the same purpose; to all of which Lane opposed but little. He had presented the case already strong enough for all to see how far it comported with Christian morality. But he had more to say:
"Beyond this, which I bring forward as a specimen of the character of your dealings with your fellow-men, I could adduce almost innumerable examples of your indirect and covert modes of obtaining the advantage in ordinary transactions. You may not be aware of the fact, Mr. Rowley, but your reputation among business men is that of a dealer so close to your own side of the bargain, as to trench upon the rights of others. You invariably keep the half-cent in giving change — while you have been repeatedly known to refuse a ten cent piece and two cents for an eleven-pence. In fact, you are known as a man who invariably seeks to get the best of every transaction.
If this is Christian charity — if this is a just regard for the rights of your neighbors — if this is in agreement with the spirit of the Bible, then I have been laboring under a mental delusion. Man of the world as I am — heathen as you have seemed to regard me, I am proud to say that I govern my actions from a higher principle.
You now understand, gentlemen," addressing the friends of Rowley, "why I have called this man a Sunday Christian. It is plain that he expects to get to Heaven by a simple Sunday service of his Maker — while all the week he pursues gain so eagerly as to thrust other people aside, and even make his way, so to speak, over their prostrate bodies. I have no more to say."
Rowley was so much confounded by this unexpected charge, that he was silent. His own conscience wrote an affirmation of the truth in his countenance. The men who had come with him arose, and, bowing with far more respect than when they entered, withdrew, and Rowley went with them.
There was a change in the pious merchant after this. He conducted his business with less apparent eagerness to get the best of every bargain, than had been his custom in former times; but whether influenced by more genuine Christian principles, or by an awakened love of reputation, it is not for us to say.
It is not by a man's religious profession that the world judges of his character — but by the quality of his transactions in business with his fellow-men. If he is truly Christian, it will be seen here in the justice of all his business transactions. If a man is not faithful to his fellow man — he cannot be faithful to God.