Sunday Religion

By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1868


"Mere Sunday religion and not worth anything!" said a lady, whose age and appearance gave weight to her words. The remark seemed to occasion something like surprise in the little group around her.

"What do you mean by Sunday religion?" was asked.

"Pious observances of any kind singing, praying, listening to sermons, reading the Bible, receiving the sacraments, and the like."

"And do you mean to say that these are worth nothing as means to the attainment of a heavenly life?"

"No far from it. They are of inestimable value; I might almost say of essential value."

"Then," said the other, "I am at a loss to comprehend your meaning. Sunday religion not worth anything!"

"Mere Sunday religion, I said, which is about all the religion possessed by the large class to whom I was referring. An exterior of sanctity, without a living principle of charity in the heart that is the Sunday religion I meant to condemn."

"There is too much of that, I fear," was answered.

"Too much, alas!"

"It is a self-deceiving form of hypocrisy," remarked one of the company.

"And as such," said the lady, "without any saving principle. Men and women may sing and pray devoutly read the Word of God in all solemnity of utterance hear preachings receive the elements in the communion give of their substance to churches and yet be in the broad way to destruction, instead of in the narrow way to Heaven! All these things will be as nothing if the week-day life fails. If, from Monday morning until Saturday night, love of self and the world rule the whole mind then all Sunday service will go for nothing in our account with Heaven. In every day of every week, we are writing down that history of our lives by which we shall be judged, when this mortal puts on immortality; and will not six days of God-forgetting selfishness stand in fearful contrast with a Sunday record of constrained worship?"

"Must religion come down into everything?" was asked. "How can you bring piety into trade? It does not follow, because a man is earnest in his employment, that he is sinning against God. Nothing can be done rightly, unless the mind goes into it with full vigor; and a man cannot think of business and religion at the same time. He who made us, comprehended this, and set apart one day in seven for religious thoughts and duties. I'm afraid you depress the value of our Sabbath ceremonials."

"It is not in my heart to do so, for I find in them both help and comfort," replied the lady, whose remark had led the conversation in this direction. "Of all good gifts from our heavenly Father, I prize, as among the best, this Christian Sabbath, when we may lay down our burdens of care and work, and gather up strength, hope, encouragement, and lessons of spiritual wisdom, by which to lead truer, because more unselfish, lives, in the days to come. But, if it is used as the only means of advancing heavenward, through devotional acts, and neither God nor the neighbor be regarded in the weeks that follow then will its services be in vain. There must be religion in business or there can be no religion at all."

"I am at fault as to your entire meaning," said the one who had previously spoken. "Religion in business! That is a novel proposition. Would you have a man praying and psalm-singing in his shop, store, office, or manufactory?"

"No."

"Then, how is he to bring down his religion into his business?"

"Religion is life," was answered; "that is, a life in obedience to the precepts of religion. Now, men live through the week as well as on Sunday in their stores and shops, as well as in their homes or closets; and they can lead only one of two lives religious, or irreligious the life of Heaven, or the life of Hell. This is true of every day, and hour, and moment. Think must it not be so?"

There followed a thoughtful silence.

"What I mean by religion in business," said the lady, "is that justice and integrity which never loses sight of the neighbor's well-being which is based on the divine law, 'Whatever you would have others do unto you do even so unto them.' It is in business that men come in contact with men under the peculiar temptations which love of self inspires; and here it is that they are more especially called upon to live that life of religious trust in God, by which they can overcome the evil inclinings of their hearts. In church, and on the business-free Sabbath, they are not in the soul-trying temptations which meet them in their world's work, and the armor of religion is not so needful for defense. It is to him who overcomes that the promise is given; and life's battle is not on the Sabbath, nor in church. Our way to Heaven is through the world.

"A Sunday religion, therefore, which is not the complement of religion in daily life, is of no avail whatever, and to those who trust therein, will come a sad awakening in that time, when all hearts will be seen as they are. God is a spirit, and those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. It is the heart's quality which gives acceptance in the eyes of God not prostrations of the body, nor any mere acts of devotion. There can be no true external worship without the internal worship of a good life; and a good life consists in a faithful and just discharge of all our neighborly duties from a principle of obedience to Divine laws. When such obedience is rendered, external Sabbath worship will flow in natural sequence, and be a form of that genuine worship which brings us near to God, and fills us with his spirit a spirit not of self-love and narrow self-seeking, but of genuine regard for others. When that spirit rules in a man's heart, he will be just in dealing, and careful that no one has lost through his gain. He will take no advantages in trade, nor profit through another's ignorance. Charity, or neighborly good-will, will be one with his piety. In the ground of love for the neighbor, whom he has seen will the seeds of love to God, whom he has not seen, be planted."

"You make the way to Heaven very narrow. Who can walk in it?" said one of the company.

A sigh came faintly from the lips of the lady who had spoken so wisely and well.

"If we would go to Heaven, we must come into the life of Heaven," she said, "and that is a life of mutual love and service. God is love not self-love, such as we cherish, but a love of doing good unto others. And the religion which leads to Heaven is an everyday religion of good-will to the neighbor, showing itself in justice, integrity, truth, honor, and genuine humanity. Without this religion, Sunday worship is nothing; with it, it conjunction with Heaven, and a joy unspeakable. If the way is narrow, it is, nevertheless, the way marked out by God Himself. It is not my way but His. And it is hard only because self-love is strong. Deny this self-love, and heavenly love will flow in. Then the way will become plain, and its rough places smooth. Flowers will spring along its margin, as it winds upward and upward into clear mountain regions, from which new worlds of beauty will open successively to the vision. So I read the laws of heavenly life, as written in God's Word."