This belief of mine is why-- in spite of my conviction that every day is a Sabbath rest in Christ for the believer (see Romans 14:5)--I have a deep admiration for early America and the time when the laws of the land reflected Sunday as a "Sabbath day of rest and worship." Laws were passed to enforce limited commercial transactions on Sunday. Efforts were made to copy the new organization in England called "Sunday School" (est. by Robert Raikes in 1781). Most people don't realize that children did not begin attending schools during the week in England until the year 1870. They were too valuable in the factories. The Sunday Schools became the only means of educating children, both in England and pioneer America. The influence on society was great. In 1736, prior to the establishment of Sunday Schools in London, London's population was 630,000 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses was an astonishing 15,839. By 1835, thirty years after establishing Sunday Schools to instruct London children during the only day they had off from the factories, the population in London had tripled to 1,776,500 and the number of taverns, brandy shops and ale houses had decreased three-fold to 5,000. There's merit to Sabbath instruction of the general population.
My maternal great-great grandfather, Charles T. Cherry, was the Agent for the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1830's. He owned a bookshop where the Cincinnati Reds stadium now stands (186 E. Main), and his job was to build and ship wooden cases filled with 121 books down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for "Sunday Schools" on the western frontier. The book case would be hung in either a pioneer church, home, or in one of the few 'public' frontier schools, and the books inside would be used to teach the children during "Sunday School." The books, designed for children in the 1830's, would make difficult reading for modern college students. They covered all subjects, including ancient and American history, theology and poetry, biographies of great men and women of Europe and America, geography, ancient literature, and more.
Some of the men who served with Charles Cherry on the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati during the 1830's would later become famous. For example, Salmon P. Chase, would go on to become U.S. Treasury Secretary and a member of Abraham Lincoln's famous presidential cabinet. He then served as the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Chase, whose picture framed the American dollar bill when it was first issued and whose name to this day graces Chase Bank, was a devout Christian, strong supporter of the American Sunday School Union, and a firm believer that nothing should be done on the Sabbath (Sunday) but worship and rest. Mr. Cherry, Mr. Chase and the other 21 members of the Western Board of the American Sunday School Union in Cincinnati published a song that the children memorized and sang on Sundays in their schools:
This day belongs to God aloneOther than the first four lines of that song, I could sing this song with gusto! There is something to be said about a nation that sets Sabbath Laws to keep people focused on worship, rest and instruction about "the way to heaven." Every country must live by law, and there's no greater example of the best laws under which any country should live than the Judeo-Christian 10 Commandments.
He chooses Sunday for his own;
And we must neither work nor play
Upon God's holy Sabbath day.
Tis well to have one day in seven
That we may learn the way to heaven;
Or else we never should have thought
About religion as we ought.
And every Sabbath should be past
As if we knew it were our last;
For what would dying people give
To have one Sabbath more to live.
However, the problem becomes when modern evangelicals equate personal righteousness with keeping the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath, as our forefathers in America did, was a functional, practical way to govern the land. The Sabbath "Blue Laws" have since been overturned. Our Christian faith is not in jeopardy, but there's a whole bunch of little children out there who may never know the way to heaven.