Monday, June 6, 2011

Crime and Sabbath Breaking

(photo by Yumi Kimura)
by Steve C. Halbrook

(excerpt from God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws)

We have noted positive effects Sabbath-keeping makes on following God’s commands.  It is a means of sanctification.  There is also a connection between Sabbath-breaking and rejecting God’s commands (cf. Rom. 1:28-32).   As Sir William Blackstone notes:  “A corruption of morals usually follows a profanation of the Sabbath.”[1]  In light of the following data, it appears Sabbath-breaking could be a major catalyst in turning to a life of crime.  According to Cotton Mather:

I have been desired by many malefactors to be with them at their execution; and then, in those last and sad minutes of their lives, they have sometimes cried out, “This, this, is a judgment of God upon my Sabbath-breaking; I may thank my Sabbath-breaking for all this; it was for my misspending of the Sabbath with vain persons, and in vain actions, that God has left me to that wickedness which has brought upon me all of this horrible misery!”[2]

And William Innes writes,
It has often been observed, that many of those who have been called to expiate their crimes against society by suffering the last penalty of the law, have dated their first departure from the right path to their early neglect of the Sabbath. Such cases I have met with, in visiting in their cells those condemned to death.[3]

"It has often been observed, that many of those who have
been called to expiate their crimes against society by suffering
the last penalty of the law, have dated their first departure
from the right path to their early neglect of the Sabbath."
--William Innes 

According to Wilbur Fisk Crafts,

Justice Strong, of the United States Supreme Court, has said:  “Those who have observed the administration of criminal law or been familiar with prison discipline have often heard the sad confession of a convicted criminal, that his career downward commenced with Sabbath-desecration.”[4] Judge Hale once said that of those who were convicted of capital crimes while he was upon the bench, he found very few who would not confess, on inquiry, that they began their career of wickedness by neglect of the Sabbath.  S. Cutter, agent of the New York Prison Association, writes me :  “Sabbath desecration is almost always connected with crime and is the forerunner of it.”

Of one hundred men admitted to the Massachusetts State Prison in one year, nine out of ten had been habitual violators of the Lord's-day and neglecters of public worship. The keeper affirms that hundreds of convicts have lamented their desecration of the Sabbath as the first and fatal step of their downward progress to ruin. The chaplain, Rev. J. W. F. Barnes, writes me, in response to inquiries : “When a man comes to prison who has been a church-goer, it makes a sensation. Why should it do so, saving for the reason that the idea of a church-goer and the idea of a criminal are so totally unlike ? The overwhelming majority of criminals hereabouts are Roman Catholics. They have holiday instead of holy day after mass.”

Similar testimony as to the relation of Sabbathbreaking to crime is given by Rev. J. G. Bass, chaplain for twenty years of the King's County Penitentiary, in Brooklyn, and many others.[5]

Rev. William Scoresby, in a book written in 1850, also links lawless criminality with Sabbath-breaking.  Regarding the evidence submitted to the “Select Committee of the House of Commons on the observance of the Lord’s day,” Scoresby writes that the Sabbath’s “influence on the moral condition of men … is so decisive in its character.”[6] 

Scoresby lists several examples.  The keeper of Newgate prison, Mr. Wontner, testified that of his incoming prisoners, nine out of ten either rejected the Sabbath or did not regularly attend worship services.  He added that many prisoners cautioned “their relatives and friends to observe the Sabbath,” and lamented that their own crimes traced “to their non-observance or breach of the Sabbath.”[7]

"Tell me what the young men
of England are doing on
Sunday, and I will tell you
what the future of England will
be." --English Prime Minister
William Gladstone
Benjamin Baker, who visited the Newgate prisoners for a twenty-year period, found among prisoners both an almost universal regret for Sabbath-breaking, as well as an almost universal acknowledgment of “Sabbath-breaking as the leading cause of their transgressions.”[8]  Baker attended at least 350 criminal executions.  Of these, nine of ten “have dated the principal part of their departure from God to the neglect of the Sabbath.”[9] 

The Chaplin of the New Prison, Rev. David Ruell, recounts a similar experience.  Of at least 100,000 prisoners under his care, prisoners generally mentioned Sabbath-breaking as a catalyst for their criminal acts.  Again, many prisoners regretted disregarding the Lord’s Day.  Ruell recalls that every capital offender was a Sabbath breaker.  In fact, says Ruell, “in many cases they [capital offenders] have assured me that Sabbath-breaking was the first step in the course of crime!”[10]  Prisoners sometimes requested that their Sabbath-breaking serve as a warning to others.  Furthermore, nineteen of twenty “prisoners of all classes … have not only neglected the Sabbath, but all other ordinances of religion.”  He adds, “So powerfully is my mind impressed with the subject, that I cannot forbear adding my conviction that Sabbath-breaking is not only a great national evil, but a fruitful source of immorality among all classes, and pre-eminently of profligacy and crime among the lower orders.”[11] 

Regarding the relationship between Sabbath-breaking and crime, the following from the Liverpool Courier, on August 11, 1847, is also helpful:

The closing of public-houses on the Sabbath-day is a measure which ought to receive the unanimous concurrence and support of all moralists, philanthropists, and true patriots. The statistics of criminal business for the borough of
Liverpool show a regular increase in the committals to the borough gaol, commensurate with the increase of the population. In the year 1841-2, the prisoners in the borough gaol were 16,657; but in the next year, when the public-houses were partially closed on the Sabbath-day, the number sensibly diminished, instead of increasing with the increasing population; and even after two or three years they fell short of the above number; thus showing the beneficial effect of this merely partial restriction of the public-houses and beer-shops. The following shows the number of prisoners in the borough gaol for four years :—

1841-2. Total number of prisoners   .     .     .      16,657
1842-3. When the public-houses were partially
             closed on Sunday          .        .      .     .   15,512
1843-4.  .       .       .        .       .         .       .       .   15,790
1845-6.  .       .         .       .        .       .       .       .   16,214

These data are as convincing as figures can be. The decrease in the committals appears as the necessary and natural consequence of the reduced temptations held out to the lower classes by the venders of beer and spirituous liquors. All we now require is to go one step further—close the public-houses altogether on that day of public rest.[12]

In light of all this evidence, it is only fitting that Prime Minister William Gladstone of England said, “Tell me what the young men of England are doing on Sunday, and I will tell you what the future of England will be.”[13]  The future of a Sabbath-breaking society is one of moral decadence and rampant crime.  

Excerpt from the (Lord willing) upcoming book, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws: Biblical Theocracy, Justice, and Slavery versus Humanistic Theocracy, "Justice," and Slavery by Steve C. Halbrook.  Copyright © 2010 by Steve C. Halbrook.  Based on the master's thesis, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws

     [1] Cited in Wilbur Fisk Crafts, The Sabbath for Man: A Study of the Origin, Obligation, History, Advantages and Present State of Sabbath Observance (Baltimore: Authors’ Union, 1894), 240.
     [2] Mather, Great Works of Christ in America, 395.  Cited in Daniel F. N. Ritchie, A Conquered Kingdom: Biblical Civil Government (Saintfield, Northern Ireland: Reformed Worldview Books, 2008), 319. 
     [3]  William Innes, “Its Influence on the Piety of Individuals,” in The Christian Sabbath: Considered in its Various Aspects, with a preface by Baptist W. Noel (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1850), 231.
     [4] “Giving Addresses in Defence of such laws, by Justice Strong of U.S. Supr. Court, and Others,” in The Right of the People to the Sunday Rest, 803.  Cited in Crafts, The Sabbath for Man, 240.
     [5] Crafts, The Sabbath for Man, 240, 241.
     [6] Rev. William Scoresby, Memorials of the Sea: Sabbaths in the Arctic Regions (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850), 15, 16.
     [7] Ibid., 16.
     [8] Ibid.
     [9] Ibid., 16, 17.
     [10] Ibid., 17.
     [11] Ibid., 17, 18.
     [12] Cited in Peter M‘Owan,  “Several Prevailing Forms of Sabbath Desecration Exposed,” in The Christian Sabbath: Considered in its Various Aspects, with a preface by Baptist W. Noel (Edinburgh: The Religious Tract and Book Society of Scotland, 1856), 149, 150. 
     [13] Henry Gariepy, Daily Meditations On Golden Texts of the Bible: 365 of the Bible’s Greatest Texts: What They Are and What They Say to Us Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), 21.   

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