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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