Defence of the Sabbath

  • Norris Pope


Few evangelical causes provoked more hostility than the sabbatarian movement; and, as Lytton Bulwer put it, few seemed more opposed ‘to the genius of the times.’ 1 But for many evangelicals, the Lord’s day was the ‘grand bulwark of Christianity,’ the sine qua non of both personal and national religious life. As such it inspired a small army of ultra-evangelical defenders, whose tactics and dedication won them a degree of social and political influence that far exceeded their numerical strength, although their achievement likewise fell far short of complete victory. ‘You have much yet to win, but you have also much to thank God for,’ Lord Ashley wrote in 1847 to Sir Andrew Agnew, the sabbatarian leader; ‘The perpetual agitation of this question has produced a real, and, I trust, lasting, effect on the public morals.’2 Agnew’s cause, previously infamous as a Puritan enthusiasm, rested on the conviction that a strict observance of the Sabbath was directly enjoined by Scripture, and was therefore one of the ‘positive commands of God’. Indeed, since evangelical teaching invariably stressed that the entire Bible was literally and infallibly true, the Mosaic Law remained an indispensable guide for the serious Christian. Thus, as a founding resolution of the Lord’s Day Observance Society emphasized, the Sabbath was ‘of Divine authority and perpetual obligation…’3


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  1. 8.
    Robert Isaac and Samuel Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce (1838) v. 143. F. K. Brown, op. cit., pp. 508–9.Google Scholar
  2. 24.
    Sir Andrew Agnew, A Letter Addressed to the Friends of the Sabbath Cause (1835) pp. 21–2.Google Scholar
  3. 36.
    C. J. Blomfield, A Letter on the Present Neglect of the Lord’s Day Addressed to the Inhabitants of London and Westminster (1830) pp. 5, 10–26, 32.Google Scholar
  4. 55.
    William Lovett, Life and Struggles of William Lovett (1967 edn) pp. 46–7. Hansard 3rd series, 3o May 1836, XXXIII 1159–60.Google Scholar
  5. 118.
    John C. Eckel, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens and their Values (1913) p. 106. Frederic G. Kitton, The Minor Writings of Charles Dickens. A Bibliography and Sketch (1900) p. 6.2.Google Scholar

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© Norris Francis Pope 1978

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  • Norris Pope

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